Contemporary Arabic Fiction: Special Issue

In April 2016, The Common literary magazine published its special eleventh issue: Tajdeed: Contemporary Arabic Stories in Translation. Co-edited by Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Acker and prominent Jordanian author Hisham Bustani, this issuefeatures the work of 26 authors from 15 Middle Eastern countries. Translated for contemporary English-speaking audiences, the issue presents a wide range of fiction from a diverse, innovative group of emerging and established literary stars from the Middle East.

Fewer than 0.5% percent of English translations in the past three years came from the Arab world. The Common seeks to expand the reach of this region’s work. Tajdeed (or renewal) brings previously inaccessible literature of thematic, stylistic, and political importance to a new audience. It features short stories from award-winning writers Zakaria Tamer (Syria) and Mohamed Makhzangi (Egypt), as well as eight authors who have never before been published in English. With introductions by acclaimed Egyptian writer Youssef Rakha and journalist Marcia Lynx Qualey, Tajdeed provides American and international readers with fresh insight into the themes and innovative forms of contemporary Arabic writing.  

An Ongoing Conversation

Tajdeed offers an unprecedented collection of imaginative works from Arabic writers and artists across generations, genders, geographies, approaches, and styles.  With the publication of this issue, The Common is building a forum for in-depth discussion not only of the Arab world and its cultural intersections with America and the West, but also  of contemporary literature and works in translation.

In fact, the conversation has already begun. On March 24, 2015, a panel of internationally known writers, editors, and translators (listed below) partook in a lively forum on the Amherst campus to address the following questions:

  • What themes, styles, and innovative collaborations are emerging in Middle Eastern fiction?
  • What linguistic, political, and cultural opportunities and challenges do Arabic writers and their editors face in translating and publishing new works?

Watch the entire conversation below.* Iraqi writer Hassan Blasim joined from his home in Finland, and Hisham Bustani from his native Jordan.

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Jennifer Acker (moderator of the conversation) is Editor in Chief of The Common. She teaches for the English Department at Amherst College and was a Faculty Fellow at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Hassan Blasim (joining the conversation via Skype) is an Iraqi-born author and filmmaker, who writes in Arabic. Since 2004, he has lived in Finland. The Madman of Freedom Square was published by Comma Press in 2009. It was long-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2010. A heavily edited version of the book was published in Arabic in 2012 and was immediately banned in many Arab countries. The Iraqi Christ was published by Comma Press in 2013, and it won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2014.  Most recently, The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq was published by Penguin Books in 2014. Blasim has been PEN-awarded three times.

Hisham Bustani (also joining the conversation via Skype) is the author of four collections of fiction and has been featured internationally in publications such as Poets & Writers, the German magazine Inamo, and Britain's The Culture Trip. Works translated into English have been published in World Literature TodayThe CommonThe Literary Review and other journals in the US, UK, and Canada. He also penned the essay "New" Arabic Writing: Cataclysm in Fast-Forward, published on The Common website in advance of the conversation.

Mohamed El Sawi Hassan is a senior lecturer in Arabic and director of the Five College Arabic Program. 

Michel S. Moushabeck is the founder of Interlink Publishing, and the author of several books, including Kilimanjaro: A Photographic Journey to the Roof of Africa and A Brief Introduction to Arabic Music. He is on the board of trustees of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

John Siciliano is an executive editor at Penguin Random House. He publishes writers from around the world—classic and contemporary, famous and forgotten and first-time—for the Viking, Penguin, and Penguin Classics imprints. Among the books he has published from the Arab world are the Iraqi short story collection The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim, the Saudi novel Wolves of the Crescent Moon by Yousef Al-Mohaimeed, and the Palestinian memoir I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti.  

View photos from the event.

Read Amherst's news coverage of the panel.

This conversation was organized by The Common in conjunction with the Copeland Colloquium Program at Amherst College, with generous support from the Georges Lurcy Lecture Series Fund at Amherst College and the Corliss Lamont Lectureship for a Peaceful World. 

The Common in the City 2016: A Celebration of Arabic Fiction

On May 19, we gathered at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute in New York City for a night of food, drink and celebration of our special 11th issue. Readers brought to life the words of Tajdeed's emerging and prize-winning authors.

Omar Berrada reads “Just Different” by Malika Moustadraf (Morocco).

Öykü Tekten reads "A Bouquet” by Fatima Al-Mazrouei (United Arab Emirates).

Hadi Eldebek reads from "Hassan al-Mazza Al-Shaghouri's Last Victory" by Zakaria Tamer (Syria).