Ferial Ghazoul, English and comparative literature professor at The American University in Cairo (AUC), and John Verlenden, former writing instructor at the Department of Rhetoric and Composition, have won the Sheikh Hamad Award for Translation and International Understanding. Ghazoul and Verlenden received the award in recognition of their work, translating Chronicles of Majnun Layla and Selected Poems of Qassim Haddad, published by Syracuse University Press in 2014. “The award validates our collaborative work and offers a model of literary translation that is responsible to both the source language and the target language,” said Ghazoul. “The cooperation between us, an Arab scholar of comparative literature and an American poet who has immersed himself in Arab culture and literature is the future trend for successful translation of literary classics. We strove to preserve the poetic sophistication of Qassim Haddad while making sure the text reads beautifully in English,” she added.Sheikh Hamad Award for Translation and International Understanding was founded in Doha, Qatar (2015). It is an international prize run by an independent board of trustees, impartial panels of judges, and a professional steering committee formed for this purpose.
Ghazoul and Verlenden have been translating as a team in Cairo since 1995. They won the University of Arkansas Arabic Translation Award in recognition of their work, translating Chronicles of Majnun Layla and Selected Poems of Qassim Haddad in 2013. Their first project, Quartet of Joy by Muhammad Afifi Matar won the Arkansas award in 1997. Ghazoul and Verlenden were able to combine efforts to also translate the poetic epic of Edwar al-Kharrat, Rama and the Dragon, which won AUC’s Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, and was published in 2002 by AUC University Press. “Thanks to AUC and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (HUSS), research and creative projects are encouraged. The presence of the Translation Studies Center in HUSS with its series of lectures and workshops functions as a framework for understanding and implementing diverse approaches to linguistic and cultural exchanges,” said Ghazoul.
Ghazoul explains that they have chosen the Chronicles of Majnun Layla to translate as it is both a superb modern rendering of the legend of Majnun Layla and a challenging poetic work to translate and render poetically in English. “We live in a global culture and translation is indispensable for mapping the cultural geography of our world. In this global scene the presence of Arabic literature contributes to appreciation of the vibrant culture of our region.” Ghazoul adds that the media often presents the negative aspects of the Middle East, “but there are brilliant contributions by contemporary Arabs that are either ignored or marginalized. Our translation plays a role in international understanding and it adds to the treasury of world literature.”
Born in 1948, Qassim Haddad is Bahrain’s best-known poet. His reworking of the Majnun Layla poem cycle and his copious output –– from aphoristic short poems to longer, free verse experiments –– have led to international recognition. The U.S. based National Endowment for the Humanities awarded a substantial grant to Ghazoul and Verlenden in 2010 for the Qassim Haddad translation project.
As for their future work in translation, Ghazoul said, “we would like to translate an exceptional classical poet, Abu Nuwas, who is also a brilliant iconoclast known for themes that go against the grain. His poetry and his non-conformist way of life have entered him into the realm of legends and folklore. Through this project, she would like Abu Nuwas’s poetry to become appreciated not only by scholars of Arabic but also by lovers of poetry, “classical as he is in terms of his period (c. 750-815), he exudes avant-garde sensibility, which would be a challenge and a pleasure to render into English.”