Memories in Translation

A Life between the Lines of Arabic Literature

Denys Johnson-Davies
Foreword by Naguib Mahfouz

Nobody has done more for modern Arabic literature in translation than Denys Johnson-Davies, described by the late Edward Said as “the leading Arabic

English edition
15 March 2006
148 pp.
25 b/w photographs
15X23cm
ISBN 9789774249389
For sale worldwide

$24.95

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Nobody has done more for modern Arabic literature in translation than Denys Johnson-Davies, described by the late Edward Said as “the leading Arabic–English translator of our time.” With more than twenty-five volumes of translated Arabic novels, short stories, plays, and poetry to his name, and a career spanning some sixty years, he has brought the works of a host of writers from across the Arab world to an ever-widening English readership. Here he tells the story of a life in translation, and gives intimate glimpses of many of the Arab writers who are becoming increasingly known in the west. In the 1940s, while teaching at Cairo University, he came to know such iconic figures as Yahya Hakki, Tewfik al-Hakim, Yusuf Idris, and of course Naguib Mahfouz. Later when he lived in Beirut, that other great literary center of the Arab world, he spent time with such poets as Tawfic Sayigh, Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, and Boland al-Haydari. He was already a close friend of Jabra Ibrahim Jabra from his college days at Cambridge, and later of another well-known Palestinian writer, Ghassan Kanafani. In the 1960s he started an influential Arabic literary magazine, Aswat, which published the leading avant-garde writers of the time, and in 1967 he put together the first representative volume of short stories from the Arab world. Then he really put Arabic writing on the international literary map with the establishment of the Heinemann Arab Authors series. Since then he has continued to select and translate the best of Arabic fiction, most recently the classic novella by Yahya Hakki, The Lamp of Umm Hashim (AUC Press 2004). He has also translated three books of Islamic Hadith (with Ezzeddin Ibrahim) and other books of Islamic thought, and has written a large number of children’s books of Middle Eastern history and folktales.

Denys Johnson-Davies

The American University in Cairo Press was very saddened by the passing of the leading and award-winning Arabic–English translator Denys Johnson-Davies, one month before his ninety-fifth birthday. Born in Canada in 1922 and raised in Cairo, Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya, Johnson-Davies returned to Cairo as a young man in the 1940s and began a literary career that spanned some seventy years and resulted in more than thirty volumes of translated Arabic novels, short stories, plays, and poetry, bringing the works of a host of writers from across the Arab world, including his friends Naguib Mahfouz, Tawfiq al-Hakim, and Yusuf Idris, to an ever-widening English readership. In his autobiography, Memories in Translation: A Life between the Lines of Arabic Literature (AUC Press, 2006), he told the story of a life in translation, and gave intimate glimpses of many of the Arab writers who are becoming increasingly known in the west.         memoriesoftranslation In the 1960s he started an influential Arabic literary magazine, Aswat, which published the leading avant-garde writers of the time, and in 1967 he put together the first representative volume of short stories from the Arab world. Then he really put Arabic writing on the international literary map with the establishment of the Heinemann Arab Authors series, after which he continued to select and translate the best of Arabic fiction. He also translated several books of Islamic Hadith (with Ezzeddin Ibrahim) and other books of Islamic thought, and wrote a large number of children’s books of Middle Eastern history and folktales. His last book, Homecoming: Sixty Years of Egyptian Short Stories (AUC Press, 2012), was a unique selection of some fifty stories representing several generations of Egypt’s leading short story writers. [embed]https://youtu.be/JG0eyQd31aQ[/embed] Johnson-Davies was described by the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said as “the leading Arabic–English translator of our time.” He was “a pioneer in the project of translating works of modern Arabic literature into English and in the complex process of persuading publishers of the value of publishing such works in the Anglophone market,” according to Roger Allen, translator and emeritus professor of Arabic and comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania. And Paul Starkey, translator and professor of Arabic at Durham University credits him with “putting modern Arabic writing on the map.” Naguib Mahfouz wrote in 2006 that Johnson-Davies, whom he had “known and admired since 1945, was the first person to translate my work,” and had “done more than anybody to translate modern Arabic fiction into English and promote it.” In 2007 he received the Sheikh Zayed Book Award for Personality of the Year in the Field of Culture.

Naguib Mahfouz

Naguib Mahfouz (1911–2006) was born in the crowded Cairo district of Gamaliya. He wrote nearly 40 novel-length works, plus hundreds of short stories and numerous screenplays. He was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1988. Kay Heikkinen holds a PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures from Harvard University, where she first became interested in Arabic history, language, and literature. She has taught medieval history and literature as well as Islamic civilization, and currently teaches Arabic at the University of Chicago.  
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