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Originally published: 2014-01-20 13:03:09
Last modified: 2014-01-20 13:03:55

Hutchins co-winner of prize for Arabic literary translation

by ASU News Service

For the first time in the history of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, two translators share the prize: American translator William Maynard Hutchins, who is a professor of religious studies at Appalachian State University, and British translator Jonathan Wright.

The prize will be awarded Feb. 12 in London. 

Hutchins and Wright will participate in a roundtable discussion on "Literary Translation Arabic to English" hosted by Banipal Trust for Arab Literature Feb. 13 at the Arab British Centre in London. 

The award winners also will attend a reception hosted by The Gallery of Foyle's Bookshop and the Banipal Trust.

Hutchins won the 2013 award for his translation of Yemeni author Wajdi al-Ahdal's "A Land Without Jasmine," published by Garnet Publishing. 

Wright won the prize for his translation of Egyptian writer Youssef Ziedan's novel "Azazeel,"published by Atlantic Books. 

The Arabic originals of both novels were in different ways notably provocative and groundbreaking, and posed challenges for their translators, according to a release from the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature.

"For the first time, the judges have selected two outright winning translators, instead of the usual winner and runner-up," the release stated. "Two enticing and finely translated novels, each in their very different way, captured the judges' attention and passion, leading to the decision to share the prize this year."

Hutchins' translation was described as "a gripping page-turner from a gifted and original storyteller, superbly translated."

The judges chose the winners from 21 books produced by 19 translators, published in English translation in the year prior to the award. 

Hutchins and Wright -- two of the most productive Arabic translators -- were the only entrants to have two translations submitted. 

In addition to their prize-winning translations, Hutchins was entered for "The Diesel" by United Arabic Emeritus author Thani Al-Suwaidi and Wright for "Life on Hold" by Saudi writer Fahd Al-Atiq.

According to the release, the Arabic originals of both novels caused controversies in their authors' home countries. 

Prize-winning author Wajdi al-Ahdal is famous for his controversial works, some of which have been banned in Yemen. At one point he was forced to leave Yemen for a period of time.

Hutchins has inserted into his translation of "A Land Without Jasmine" sections of the novel that were excluded from the version published in Arabic in Yemen.

Judges for the completion were Arabic translator Humphrey Davies and Iraqi playwright Hassan Abdulrazzak, who each read the Arabic original of the novels, as well as the English translation, plus fiction writer Rajeev Balasubramanyam and novelist and Peirene Press founder and publisher Meike Ziervogel.

The judges met in London in December to select the winning entries.

They described "A Land Without Jasmine" as "an enjoyable read that preserves the soul of the original."

The judges said that "A Land Without Jasmine" deals with many social and political issues, such as the sexual repression of males in a conservative society and the corruption of public institutions, yet it does so in the guise of a thriller that keeps the reader enthralled. 

The story is told by several characters whose accounts do not often tally with one another, leaving room for the readers to synthesize their own version of the truth.

Hutchins is a prolific and award-winning translator of literary Arabic. He began learning Arabic while teaching at the Gerard School for Boys in Sidon, Lebanon, and studied the language at Arabic at the University of Chicago.

During his time teaching at the University of Ghana in Legon, he began translating the plays of Tawfiq al-Hakim, and later published a two-volume collection. 

Hutchins was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant for Literary Translation in 2005-06 for his translation of "The Seven Veils of Seth" by Libyan Tuareg author Ibrahim al-Koni and a second NEA grant in 2012 for "New Waw," also by al-Koni, which is scheduled for release this month.

Hutchins' translations of Arabic novels include "Palace Walk," "Palace of Desire," "Sugar Street" and "Cairo Modern" by Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz.

His recent translations include a revision of his translation of "Return of the Spirit" by Tawfiq al-Hakim and "The Grub Hunter" by Amir Tag Elsir. 

Hutchins' translations have appeared on wordswithoutborders.org and brooklynrail.org and in Banipal Magazine of Modern Arab Literature.



About the prize

The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize was established in 2005 by Banipal magazine of modern Arab literature in English translation and the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature, as the first worldwide prize for a published work of English literary translation from Arabic. 

It is wholly sponsored by Omar Saif Ghobash and family in memory of his father, the late Saif Ghobash, a man passionate about Arabic literature and other literatures of the word.

The founding of the prize meant that for the first time Arabic joined the ranks of languages with a literary translation prize administered by the Society of Authors. The Saif Ghobas Banipal Prize is awarded annually.