War Songs longlisted for the National Translation Award

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019 10:01 am

The American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) announced the longlists today for the 2019 National Translation Awards in Poetry and Prose. Included on the longlist for poetry is War Songs by ‘Antarah ibn Shaddad, translated by James E. Montgomery with Richard Sieburth!

Fall 2018 PaperbacksThe National Translation Award, now in its 21st year, is the only national award for translated fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction that includes a rigorous examination of both the source text and its relation to the finished English work. Featuring authors writing in 13 different languages, this year’s longlists expand the prize’s dedication to literary diversity in English. The selection criteria include the quality of the finished English language book, and the quality of the translation. ALTA will highlight each book on the longlists with features written by the judges on the ALTA blog: https://literarytranslators.wordpress.com/

The Complete 2019 National Translation Award Longlist in Poetry:

War Songs
by Antarah ibn Shaddad
translated from the Arabic by James E. Montgomery with Richard Sieburth
(Library of Arabic Literature/NYU Press)

Architecture of Dispersed Life: Selected Poems
by Pablo de Rokha
translated from the Spanish by Urayoán Noel
(Shearsman Books)

(more…)

Conceptions and Configurations of the Arabic Literary Canon: A Discussion with the Editors of the Library of Arabic Literature

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019 8:00 am

On June 19th, 2019, Marina Warner moderated a panel discussion with several of the editors of the Library of Arabic Literature at the workshop “Conceptions and Configurations of the Arabic Literary Canon,” held at the Paris Columbia Global Center and organized by Sarah bin Tyeer and Claire Gallien. The panel focused on the genesis of the Library of Arabic Literature and the ways in which the question of “the canon” in Arabic literature affected the selection of titles. Some highlights from the conversation follow:

The panel began with a discussion of the origins of the project. Philip Kennedy, General Editor, explained that the Library of Arabic Literature decided early on to use the term “literature” not in the sense of “adab” but in the sense of “anything that is written, the written heritage of a culture.” The Library of Arabic Literature, then, “seeks to be a library that is inclusive,” he added.

Marina Warner asked about the process for creating a new LAL edition and translation of a work. James Montgomery, Executive Editor, described how LAL editor-translators work with manuscripts to create new, authoritative editions. “Editing is a form of translation,” he said. Shawkat Toorawa, Executive Editor, chimed in to emphasize the collaborative nature of the LAL process, noting, “We subject every single word to review.” (more…)

Julia Bray on Translating Al-Tanūkhī, ‘A Useful Thinker for Our Times’

Thursday, May 30th, 2019 6:00 am

Al-Muḥassin ibn ʻAlī al-Tanūkhī (939–994) was a judge, collector of stories, and litterateur who was born in Basra and died in Baghdad. Raised in a lettered family with significant connections to the ruling elite, Tanūkhī knew many of the stories behind the great rises and falls of his day. Deliverance Follows Adversity is one of two influential anthologies he compiled, and it is full of stories of imprisonment, loss, and liberation.

More than a millennium after the author-editor’s death, Julia Bray, the Abdulaziz Saud AlBabtain Laudian Professor of Arabic at the University of Oxford, has translated the first three chapters of Deliverance, titled Stories of Piety and Prayer, into a sharp, clear English. Bray’s scholarly interests focus on medieval Arabic literature, life-writing, and social history, which puts Tanūkhī’s Deliverance—part autobiography, part social history, and part self-help—directly in her crosshairs. Indeed, Bray said that, when she began reading Tanūkhī, she found “practically everything I was interested in was there.”

What do Tanūkhī’s multiple—and varied—tellings of events tell us about his project? Why does Bray feel Deliverance was “a struggle to write,” and why is it a must-read for historians of emotion and narratologists? In this second part of a two-part discussion, Bray also talks about her translation decisions, and why she tried to stay as close as possible to the Arabic.

I’m usually someone who falls asleep during the isnāds, but I was surprisingly charmed by this book’s vigorous sourcing. Not only do we have chains of transmission, but sometimes Tanūkhī cites a book and a chain of transmission; sometimes he notes whether an anecdote was memorized or loosely remembered; he notes sometimes that he has permission to re-tell a story; sometimes whether the anecdote was read back and verified. Also, he gathers multiple tellings of events. In doing so, does he stand out from other authors in offering a kind of extra scholarly rigor? The function of the isnāds is generally clear, to tie us into a history, but what about the function of the multiple versions? (I find the idea that some translators would have cut the variations a bit shocking; they seem very important to this project.)  (more…)

The ‘1001 Nights’ Outclassed: The 10th-century Stories of Tanūkhī

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019 8:00 am

Stories of Piety and PrayerAl-Muḥassin ibn ʻAlī al-Tanūkhī (939–994) was a judge, collector of stories, and litterateur who was born in Basra and died in Baghdad. Raised in a lettered family with significant connections to the ruling elite, Tanūkhī knew many of the stories behind the great rises and falls of his day. Deliverance Follows Adversity is one of two influential anthologies he compiled, and it is full of stories of imprisonment, loss, and liberation.

More than a millennium after the author-editor’s death, Julia Bray, the Abdulaziz Saud AlBabtain Laudian Professor of Arabic at the University of Oxford, has translated the first three chapters of Deliverance, titled Stories of Piety and Prayer, into a sharp, clear English. Bray’s scholarly interests focus on medieval Arabic literature, life-writing, and social history, which puts Tanūkhī’s Deliverance—part autobiography, part social history, and part self-help—directly in her crosshairs. Indeed, Bray said that, when she began reading Tanūkhī, she found “practically everything I was interested in was there.”

Why does Bray think Tanūkhī’s tales “outclass the Nights in every way,” and why does she call him “the opposite of imperturbable”? In the first of a two-part discussion on the charming, self-pitying, and erudite Tanūkhī, Bray talks about the author and what his Deliverance might have meant to him and his contemporaries, as well as the ways in which it’s been passed down, adapted, and understood by later readers.

I’d like to start with what brought you to this translation. How does it build out of your work and interests, as well as the work of David Samuel Margoliouth (1858-1940), Alfred Felix Landon Beeston (1911-1995), and ʿAbbūd al-Shāljī (1911-1996)? How do we insert you, and this translation, into the Tanūkhī story?

Julia Bray: How do I connect with Tanūkhī? I got interested in Arabic storytelling as a teenager through a book of translations edited by James Kritzeck. I liked the pieces he chose because of their plots, and because some of the translations were outstanding.

I think it was that that pushed me in the direction of learning Arabic at university. I was greedy for stories, but not 1001 Nights-type stories. I think Tanūkhī’s stories outclass the Nights in every way, and unlike Shahrazad, he doesn’t go on and on. His plots are brisk and varied, even though in Deliverance Follows Adversity all the stories are about someone, usually someone just like you or me, getting into some sort of tight spot in one of their less bright moments, and coming out gratefully on the other side—one of the unfailing shared plot types that western readers can recognize from Ancient Greek comedy to P.G. Wodehouse. Tanūkhī’s Deliverance stories are written in all the then-available literary registers about very human characters that we only get glimpses of, but long to know more about. Most of them aren’t by him—he makes it quite clear that the book is a collection of stories by other people, and he’s very anxious that his readers should know who those people are. It’s one of the ways he makes things individual and specific, which is part of what makes the stories so attractive. (more…)

The Story of the Snake: An Excerpt from Stories of Piety and Prayer

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019 4:51 pm

Stories of Piety and PrayerOne of the most popular and influential Arabic books of the Middle Ages, al-Tanukhi’s Deliverance Follows Adversity is an anthology of stories and anecdotes designed to console and encourage the afflicted. Stories of Piety and Prayer consists of the first three chapters of Deliverance Follows Adversity and features stories that show how God’s providence works through His creatures to rescue them from tribulations ranging from religious persecution to romantic woes, and in this case, an encounter with a treacherous serpent. The story begins:

[…] I have also heard the story told differently, though with the same meaning, as read back for verification to the Baghdadi Qurʾan scholar, Abū l-ʿAbbās the Gap-Toothed, whose name is Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Ḥammād ibn Ibrāhīm ibn Thaʿlab, in his house in Basra in Jumada I 335 [December 946] in my presence and hearing, as follows: You cite ʿAlī ibn Ḥarb al-Ṭāʾī of Mosul, who heard it from Jaʿfar ibn Mundhir al-Ṭāʾī the holy man in Mahrūbān, who said: I was with Sufyān ibn ʿUyaynah when he turned to a Hadith scholar who was present and said, “Tell us the story of the snake!” The man said, citing ʿAbd al-Jabbār:

Ḥumayd ibn ʿAbd Allāh had gone to the place where he practiced his devotions, when suddenly a snake appeared and said to him, “Protect me, that God’s shadow may protect you!”

“From whom am I to protect you?” he asked.

“From a murderous enemy,” the snake replied. (more…)

General Editor Philip Kennedy Profiled in The National

Friday, April 26th, 2019 2:18 pm

UAE’s The National recently published a profile of our general editor Philip Kennedy, who was recently awarded the prestigious Sheikh Zayed Book Award for his book Recognition in the Arabic Narrative Tradition (Edinburgh University Press, 2016). The article begins:

Philip Kennedy accepts his award during a ceremony at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair

“Writing academic books is a very private affair,” says Philip Kennedy, professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies and comparative literature at New York University Abu Dhabi. “I feel lucky when a book is published, lucky if someone in my field notices it and writes a review, lucky if a student takes it up for a class.”

So you can probably imagine how Kennedy felt when he discovered earlier this year – via text message – that he had won a Sheikh Zayed Book Award for his 2016 work, Recognition in the Arabic Narrative: Tradition: Discovery, Deliverance and Delusion. “I thought I was dreaming and then realised I wasn’t,” he says.

Read the full article here.

The Quintessence of Reality: An Interview with LAL Fellow Mohammed Rustom

Thursday, March 21st, 2019 9:02 am

Two Library of Arabic Literature Fellows, Mohammed Rustom and Bilal Orfali, recently sat down together to discuss the edition and translation projects they’ve been working on this year at NYU Abu Dhabi. Here, Bilal Orfali interviews Mohammed Rustom about his work on ‘Ayn al-Qudat’s Zubdat al-Haqa’iq (The Quintessence of Reality).

Who was ‘Ayn al-Qudat, and why was he so important in the Islamic tradition?

Mohammed Rustom

Library of Arabic Literature Fellow Mohammed Rustom

‘Ayn al-Qudat was a major theologian, philosopher, jurist, and Sufi who died in the middle of the 12th century CE. The Seljuq government had him put to death because he was a critic of their corrupt administrative practices and they feared his influence among his students, many of whom worked for the Seljuqs.

‘Ayn al-Qudat was the disciple of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ghazali, who was of course the brother of the famous Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali. ‘Ayn al-Qudat is significant because he wrote in both Arabic and Persian, and was equally influential on both the Arabic tradition and the Persian tradition. Many of the important Sufi authors writing in Persian after him were influenced by him, such as Farid al-Din ‘Attar, Jalal al-Din Rumi, and Mahmud Shabistari. They drew on his writings, especially his original discussions on love and the imagery of the lover and the beloved, the moth and the flame, etc. The authors writing in Arabic, such as Ibn ‘Arabi, Nasir al-Din Tusi, and Mulla Sadra were also influenced by his theoretical discussions on God, the nature of knowledge, and the path to acquiring true knowledge. (more…)

“Some Works Just Capture You”: An Interview with LAL Fellow Bilal Orfali

Thursday, March 14th, 2019 2:54 pm

Two Library of Arabic Literature Fellows, Mohammed Rustom and Bilal Orfali, recently sat down together to discuss the edition and translation projects they’ve been working on this year at NYU Abu Dhabi. Here, Mohammed Rustom interviews Bilal Orfali about his work on the Maqāmāt of al-Hamadhānī and other projects.

What are the books that you are working on for the Library of Arabic Literature?

I just completed with Maurice Pomerantz an edition of al-Hawamil wa-l-shawāmil by al-Tawḥīdī (d. ca. 1023) and Miskawayh (d. 1030) which was translated by Sophia Vasalou and James E. Montgomery. This edition-translation will be published in two volumes in Fall 2019, under the title The Philosopher Responds: An Intellectual Correspondence from the Tenth Century. I am currently working with Ramzi Baalbaki and Maurice Pomerantz on an edition and translation of ʿUqalāʾ al-majānīn of al-Naysābūrī (d. 1014), and with Maurice Pomerantz on an edition and translation of the Maqāmāt of al-Hamadhānī (d. 1008). I have also prepared a short anthology, which is illustrated, from Tanukhī’s (d. 994) works al-Faraj baʿd al-shiddah (Relief after Hardship) and Nishwār al-muḥāḍara (Table Talk) for school children.

From wise fools to beggars and tricksters, tell us more about the Maqāmāt.

Bilal Orfali

Library of Arabic Literature Fellow Bilal Orfali

The Maqāmāt, refers to a form of fictional Arabic prose literature that has played an important role in Middle Eastern and global literary history. Invented in Arabic in the 4th/10th century in Eastern Iran, maqāmāt works are collections of picaresque tales that narrate the various adventures of a trickster’s travels across cities of the medieval Islamic world. They cast the exploits and speech of its characters in flowery prose. The tales are often ironic, parodic, and darkly humorous. They often mock aspects of the society or the reader’s knowledge and perception of literature, religion, science, and philosophy. Over the centuries, the genre has exhibited remarkable capacity to travel and transform. Maqāmah writing spread to most regions of the Muslim world and traversed linguistic, religious, and cultural boundaries, as writers composed maqāmāt collections in Persian, Hebrew, Syriac, Ottoman Turkish, and Hausa.

The first person to compose a maqāmah was Badīʿ al-Zamān al-Hamadhānī. In creating the maqāmah form, al-Hamadhānī adapted many pre-existing features of the Arabic courtly literary tradition before him. However the works are innovative in several respects, such as his use of rich textures of rhymed prose that accentuated the speaker’s performances, and the distinctive style of narrative poetics, the maqāmah form. (more…)

General Editor Philip Kennedy Reads from Consorts of the Caliphs

Monday, March 4th, 2019 10:00 am

“ʿInān was the first poet to become famous under the Abbasids and the most gifted poet of her generation…”

In this video produced by the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute, the General Editor of the Library of Arabic Literature Philip Kennedy discusses Consorts of the Caliphs and reads an entertaining excerpt from the book. Watch the video here:

“The Secretarial Art Is a Noble Craft”: An Excerpt from The Sword of Ambition

Monday, February 25th, 2019 8:00 am

The Sword of Ambition

In this excerpt from The Sword of Ambition: Bureaucratic Rivalry in Medieval Egypt, translated by Luke Yarbrough, the unemployed bureaucrat ‘Uthman ibn Ibrahim al-Nabulusi describes what he believes are essential qualifications for being a good secretary. The work as a whole makes a polemical argument against the employment of non-Muslims as secretaries and offers us “an unusual opportunity to situate virulent religious polemic in the particular historical context that generated it,” as Yarbrough writes in his introduction. “The author’s patent desperation and autobiographical candor make it clear that the project was not suggested to him by sacred texts or abstract reflection alone, but instead was inspired by historically specific, self-interested motives.”

A Description of the Secretarial Art

Since the subject of the secretarial art has been broached, and since we have had occasion to mention those who unworthily don its robes and thereby encroach upon its sublime offices, it is fitting that I describe what it is. Indeed, it is appropriate that I bedeck the end of this book with a description of those men whom the secretarial art has adorned and that I offer a sample of their merits. (more…)