Monday, April 12, 2010
first bqfp titles at tate modern evening
Bloomsbury starts making in roads in Arabic literature
Susannah Tarbush Saudi Gazette 12 April 2010
The issuing of the first batch of titles by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP) was celebrated in London last Wednesday with an evening of readings, conversation and music. The event was held in the Tate Modern art gallery’s seventh floor restaurant – which has spectacular views across the River Thames – in the presence of Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, wife of the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani.
Sheikha Mozah is founder and chairperson of the Qatar Foundation, which joined with British publisher Bloomsbury to set up BQFP in autumn 2008. On Tuesday Sheikha Mozah attended the official launch of the BQFP at a reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor Castle.
The Tate Modern evening, entitled “Writing in Both Directions”, featured readings from, and discussion of, books by Suad Amiry and Inaam Kachachi which are among the first BQFP titles. Appearing on the platform alongside the two authors were BQFP’s managing director Seif Salmawy and BQFP consultant publisher Andy Smart. The Palestinian musician Nizar Al-Issa performed music on an oud during the evening
Amiry is a Ramallah-based Palestinian architect who founded, and is director of, the Riwaq Center for Architectural Conservation. Her book “Nothing to Lose But Your Life: An 18 hour Journey with Murad” follows her internationally successful debut “Sharon and My Mother-in-Law: Ramallah Diaries” which won the Viareggio-Versilia Prize in Italy.
“Nothing to Lose But Your Life” is the true-life account of the hazardous trip made by Amiry – a middle-aged woman disguised as a man – walking for hours through the night and breaking through the separation wall into Israel with a group of Palestinian men so desperate for work that they risk arrest, and even their lives.
Baghdad-born Inaam Kachachi works as a journalist in France. Her novel “The American Granddaughter” was shortlisted for the 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF, known as the “Arabic Booker”). BQFP have published the book in an English translation by Nariman Youssef.
The novel’s central character, Zeina, is an Iraqi immigrant to the USA who returns to Iraq after the 2003 invasion to work as an interpreter for the US Army. In Iraq she is torn by conflicting allegiances, and her grandmother’s disapproval.
In her writing Amiry has a refreshing ability to extract comedy from the grimmest of situations. She sees joking about one’s life as being a coping mechanism when one is living under occupation and facing difficult situations day in and day out. Humor is also a good way of communicating with others.
The Palestinians are often portrayed in the media as “people who are dying or want to die, but in reality we are three and a half million Palestinians under occupation who are prevented from having a normal life.” She thinks it is “very important that people start perceiving us as people who love life and want to live, and this is why I think writing about everyday life is important.”
British-Egyptian translation specialist Nariman Youssef read from her translation of Kachachi’s “The American Granddaughter”. Andy Smart said that she is “one of our new generation of translators who’ll be joining us at a translation conference to be held at the end of May in Doha.”
In his speech at the event, the chairman of the BQFP Management Committee Nigel Newton said that BQFP has three aims: to publish books of quality and originality in Arabic and English; to help foster a life-long love of reading through writing and reading development activities; and to transfer publishing skills to Qatar.
The publishing industry stands at a crossroads. The digital revolution is under way, and electronic books are becoming accepted by the general public. “But potentially of even greater significance is the digital potential of the mobile phone in the Arab world,” Newton said. “At BQFP we are already exploring how best to use the digital medium for our publishing, and our reading and writing development work.”
BQFP has also held a poetry competition where entries had to be submitted via text message. “We are planning to host a roundtable event in Doha in the autumn to explore the issues around the digital potential for publishing and publisher.”
BQFP is “working with other organizations such as Vodafone in Qatar to encourage people who have never thought of themselves as writers to put pen to paper – or in this digital age to tap away at their keyboard and to let their voices be heard.” A book on the history of women and their true contribution to Gulf society will be published by BQFP next year.
“We want to collaborate where possible with other publishers across the region to help expand the market for reading and help foster writing and new writers,” Newton said. “An even more lively publishing scene across the Middle East will help build bridges within the region and between East and West.”
Books are not the only publications on which Bloomsbury and the Qatar Foundation will collaborate. “We are also setting up for the Qatar Foundation a journals publishing company which will publish research from the universities and research organizations in Qatar (which currently invests over 2.8 percent of its GDP in research) to be known as Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Journals. This will become a leading scientific publisher in the Middle East.”
The newly-published BQFP books include “Qatari Voices: A Celebration of New Writers”, edited by Carol Henderson and by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar who is BQFP’s director of reading and writing development. Another title is the Arabic translation of the prizewinning novel for young adults “Where the Streets Had a Name” (2008) by Randa Abdel-Fattah, born in Australia to Egyptian-Palestinian parents.
The new titles also feature five children’s books. “The Selfish Crocodile” by Foustin Charles and Michael Terry, in an Arabic and English edition, and Arabic editions of “No Matter What” (written and illustrated by Debi Gliori), “Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly” (by Sue Heap, illustrated by Nick Sharratt); “Eliza and the Moonchild” (written and illustrated by Emma Chichester-Clark); and “The Gruffalo” (by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler).
BQFP is attracting much interest in the Arab literary community. Later this year it is due to publish a book of essays by the prominent Algerian female writer Ahlam Mosteghanemi, entitled “Nisyane.com”. BQFP is considering publishing an English version of “Safinet Nouh” (“Noah’s Ark”), the second novel of Egyptian writer Khaled Al-Khamissi [pictured], who first came to attention with his bestselling debut “Taxi”.