R. B. Smith, Mai Lootah Win AATA Translation Awards

The American Association of Teachers of Arabic Translation has announced the two winners of their 2020 translation award:

The prize, given biennially in recognition of “outstanding achievement by students of Arabic in translating into English a significant work or portion of a work composed in Arabic,” this year went to two winners. R. B. Smith took first prize in the literary category with a translation of Hilal Chouman’s ” لا أحد يُطفئ هذا الجهاز: Home” (“Home: No One Turn Off This Machine,”), while Mai Lootah took first prize in the non-literary category with a translation of Abu Talib al-Makki’s “قوت القلوب ” (“The Nourishment of Hearts”).

There were no second-place winners announced this year.

Each first-place winner takes $600, and to be eligible, participants must be students who are currently participating in an Arabic program “at any level, or who have been so participating at some time during the two years prior to the current academic year.”

They also must submit not just the translation, but an essay about their translation choices.

Smith said over email, of choosing this story:

I got interested in contemporary Lebanese literature after spending the summer of 2019 working for a newspaper in Beirut. I was looking for an untranslated piece to work on for an independent study in Arabic-English translation when my professor, Radwa El Barouni, pointed me to Hilal Chouman, a Lebanese novelist and short story writer. After reading a few short stories on his blog, I connected with “No one turns off this machine” because it grappled with a lot of the complex, interconnected issues of Lebanese history and identity that I saw just the shadows of while I was in Beirut.

And of his translation choices:

The story’s disjointed structure and fluent fusion of formal Arabic and Lebanese slang presented challenges, but I made a point to translate Chouman’s words as precisely as I could and let Chouman’s own cleverness shine through. I also had the privilege of working closely with Professor El Barouni over many drafts and sending my final few to Chouman himself to hear his input. Their thoughts are reflected in the translation just as much as my own.

The 2018 winners were Anny Gaul, who translated Ihsan ʿAbd al-Quddus‘s satirical short story “The Discovery of Aluminum,” and Nicholas B. Smith, who translated Sayyid Qutb’s “Consciousness in Poetry.” There was also a second-prize winner in 2018, Aiden Kaplan with Zakariya Tamer’s “The Defendant.”

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