This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
Wednesday morning, the MacArthur Foundation announced its list of “Genius Grants.” On the list to receive a no-strings-attached stipend of $625,000 is Libyan poet and translator Khaled Mattawa, who said he plans to use the money to further his translations and take on larger projects:
Mattawa was born in Libya and moved to the U.S. in 1979. He has published a number of translated collections — work by Adonis, Saadi Youssef, Iman Mersal, Amjad Nasser — as well as four collections of his own work. It’s his work between cultural and literary traditions that seems to have caught the MacArthur Foundation’s interest. From the foundation’s statement:
Khaled Mattawa is a cultural ambassador and poet-translator of Arabic poetry giving voice to a vast literature largely unknown in the Western hemisphere. In masterful translations that evoke the rhythm and cadence of Arabic, he renders the beauty and meaning of the poems accessible to an English reader.
Mattawa’s recent translation of Adonis: Selected Works was criticized by fellow translator-poet Sinan Antoon, who, in Jadaliyya and Translation Review, highlighted places where the translation and original didn’t fit. The foundation seemed to take this into consideration, and wrote that Mattawa’s translations “do not replicate the meter or rhyme of the original, nor do they mimic traditional English forms; rather, they are creative reproductions with words translated or replaced, sentences and spaces rearranged, but with fidelity to the author’s spirit.”
Mattawa was also cited for co-founding the Arete Foundation of Arts and Culture, which promotes the arts in Libya.
Although Mattawa was living in the U.S. when he first became interested in poetry, he told the Detroit Free Press:
For me, there was a lot of poetry in American English to read, but it didn’t seem to have the scope of the Arab experience or issues in Arab life. I began to translate poetry as a way of bringing that experience into American English to help me shape my own voice. It was a way for me to learn how to write modern poetry.
Earning the “Genius Grant” follows a string of honors for Mattawa, including being elected to the American Academy of Poets’ Board of Chancellors.
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