Goodbye, Denys Johnson-Davies (1922-2017)

If modern Arabic literature in English translation had a patron saint, it was Denys Johnson-Davies.

In his Marrakesh home with his collection “Homecoming.” Photo courtesy Paola Crocian.

Davies was born in Canada in 1922, spent his early childhood between Egypt, Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya, and was sent to England at 12.

Roger Allen rightly called Johnson-Davies “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.” An article by Musa Al-Halool, “Denys Johnson-Davies: The Translator Who Rushed in Where Angels Feared to Tread” calls Johnson-Davies’ contribution “monumental.”

Johnson-Davies produced more than thirty volumes of modern Arabic literature, mostly fiction. His last work was Homecoming: Sixty Years of Egyptian Short Stories (2012). He also wrote a seminal memoir about translating Arabic literature into English, Memories in Translation: A Life Between the Lines of Arabic Literature; a number of children’s books about figures such as Ibn Battoutah, Goha, and Abla and Antara; as well as his own short stories, published in 1999 in a collection titled Fate of a Prisoner.

There will be much more coming on ArabLit to celebrate the life of Denys Johnson-Davies and to wish him a proper farewell.

Click HERE to read more.

 

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