Hala Salah Eldin Hussein has an affinity for under-loved literature. She has, for thirty-three issues now, translated contemporary English-language stories into Arabic for the Albawtaka Review. She talked with ArabLit about that process back in August. Recently, Hussein announced that Albawtaka, which is now supported in part by the British Council, will be merging with Mira Publishing House in London, and — while maintaining Albawtaka -- Hala will also focus on shepherding Arabic short stories into English.
This is Mira? http://intelligentread.com/index.htm
Yes, Mira Publishing House is a progressive and forward-thinking nonprofit charity based in Leeds. This site was designed and is maintained by Mira’s founder and its energetic sole engine, Fadwa Fadel. The idea of Mira started with developing an electronic device that helps the disabled to easily and efficiently enjoy any book, and prevents preaching the digital copyright of published materials. The idea then extended to establishing a publishing house in order to get the fund to manufacture the device and make it available to publishers.
Who is involved in Mira?
It’s entirely Fadwa Fadel’s enterprise, and she would be very kind to let me in and join. Along with Mira, Fadwa is basically a pioneer in the realm of electronic technology. However, she is not a stranger to the field of publishing, as she has published Glass, a collection of short stories translated from English into Arabic and Japan’s Longest Day, translated from English into Arabic. She has also written several articles and book reviews for the Arab media in London.
Albawtaka Review and Mira Intelligent Read are planning to merge. Together, Albawtaka and Mira will be a powerful force, bridging the gape between the east and the west and publishing electronic and print works of fiction in different languages. I, in cooperation with Fadwa, aspire with this merger to consolidate efforts to publish an out-of-the-box fiction from new and talented authors. Mira goes with the mission of making books available at an affordable price, becoming a leader in global green publishing techniques, and promoting international understanding through publishing a series of translated anthologies of short fiction from Arabic into English.
When are you shooting to publish the first short-story anthology?
Date is yet to be determined. It’s, in fact, a long process, as we need to choose new contemporary stories or commission authors to write stories for these series of anthologies. We will be keen to end up with a theme for every anthology. All sorts of ideas are currently on the table, to translate contemporary or classic Arabic stories into English, to commission Arabic authors who write in English, to use already translated stories. We might be able to create a mix in favor of one particular theme.
Will you be translating the stories, or looking for translators? Or looking for works that have already been translated?
I know where you are going with this question! Yes, I might go ahead and try my luck! I know I’ve sworn not to translate from Arabic into English, but Mira will hire the best British editor to correct my horrible mistakes! I seriously would like to see if I’m going to produce a solid translated English text. Let’s see how bad I’m going to fail! I guess my first attempt would seal my fate.
Will they be new stories, a sort of “Best of Arabic Short Stories” (like the Best American Short Stories collections) or new & old?
Old, new, already translated, or commissioned.
[Hussein also had noted that profits from book sales will go to scholarships.] How will the scholarships work? For studying literature or anything?
According to Fadwa Fadel, Mira’s manager, the project is twofold:
1. To approach universities worldwide to offer free places for British students nominated by Mira (and the University of Leeds, yet to be fully agreed), where Mira would pay for their expenses only. Mira has some contacts in some universities in the UAE to start with, and will contact them to spare a couple of places a year for British students to study there.
2. When Mira starts to gain profits from selling books and e-reader licenses, we will be able to also pay for full scholarships for selected students from third world to study in the UK/EU. Choices will not be limited to literature.
Editor’s note: Hussein adds that a call to apply for the scholarship, when it’s available, will come through the Albawtaka and Mira websites, as well as through the Mira newsletter.
And of course Albawtaka continues. Does the British Council have a hand in selecting the stories you translate for Albawtaka, or is it still just you searching them out?
I had a talk with Ms. Shaima Elbana from the British Council and we have agreed that I will concentrate on the British and Irish literary scene. I have sole responsibility for choosing stories, and I’m most glad to carry the burden. I think our literary tastes are too unique and personal, and you never spend weeks and weeks with a text unless you are totally and utterly in love with it. It can’t’ be imposed. But I’m not the one who would deny the help of an amazing author: my very dear friend author Rachel Kadish has actually suggested the names of Susan Power and Tony Eprile, and I went on to read their stories to chose “Red Moccasins” and “The Ugly Beetle,” which are part of this project. The British Council was also very cooperative as I have been informed to take all the time I need to find excellent stories. I can’t thank them enough for their support, financially and emotionally.
How did you run across these particular three stories?
The thirty-third issue, March 2012, of Albawtaka Review sheds light on three literary talents. It has published three new stories: “The Orphan and the Mob” by Julian Gough, “The Man Who Fell” by Polly Samson, and “Tea at the Midland” by David Constantine. “The Orphan and the Mob” and “Tea at the Midland” have won the BBC Short Story Award, the biggest prize in the world for a single short story, fifteen thousand pounds! “The Man Who Fell” was published in The Guardian Review Book of Short Stories. So I basically dug deep into my usual resources: Prospect Magazine, The Guardian Review Book of Short Stories, The Guardian, The BBC National Short Story Awardanthology, The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story, The Dublin Review, and The Best British Short Stories 2011 to land these three beautiful stories, and more.