Out of Line:Thoraya El-Rayyes in conversation with debut novelist Saleem Haddad

From the Apogee Journal blog, Perigee.

41GEb-9pgRL._SX331_BO1204203200_ (2)

Saleem Haddad’s recently published debut novel, Guapa, is the story of a twenty-something-year-old gay man named Rasa living in an unidentified Arab country, trying to carve out a life for himself in the midst of political and religious upheaval. The novel is set over the course of twenty-four hours, on the day that Rasa’s grandmother, the woman who raised him, catches him in bed with his lover, Taymour.

Here, literary translator Thoraya El-Rayyes talks to Saleem about Arab sexuality under the Western gaze, chain smoking grandmothers, and writing a novel in the midst of the Arab Spring.

Thoraya: A few weeks ago, I had the misfortune to come across an article in The New York Times with the headline The Sexual Misery of the Arab World by an Algerian writer, Kamel Daoud. He wanted to inform the Generic American Liberal (or whoever it is that reads the NYT) that “sex determines everything that is unspoken” in the Arab world. Everything.

Read the full dialogue…

‘Perception of Meaning’: At the Boundary of Arabic Poetry and Apocalypse

From the Arabic Literature (in English) blog

11066614_10153300487036995_1902174752711326208_nLast November,
The Perception of Meaning was chosen as a co-winner of the University of Arkansas Award for the Translation of Arabic Literature; now a bilingual edition of the book by Hisham Bustani, trans. Thoraya El-Rayyes, is coming from Syracuse University Press this fall: 

The two of them — author and translator — talk with ArabLit about process, influence, genre, boundaries, translational acts, and even the teaching of Arabic literature (in English).

Okay, ultimately the text is the text, whatever we call it. But why do you call this “flash fiction” instead of a “collection of poetry”?

Hisham Bustani: I am a writer of prose; of the short form in particular. This is how I define myself and my writing. But I am not at all supportive of boundaries between literary genres. I cross these boundaries regularly. In this collection and some earlier works, it was the boundary with poetry; in my fourth collection, a prominent critic was of the opinion that I was using multiple voices inside the short form, which is one of the main techniques of the novel — thus crossing that boundary. Also, I’ve always been of the opinion that poetry and short fiction, especially flash fiction, are of close kinship, and that short fiction and the novel, although both prose, are very distant relatives.

Read the full interview…

A Bicultural Love of the Written Word: John Barton in Conversation with Thoraya El-Rayyes

From The Malahat Review website.


Thoraya El-Rayyes’ translation from Arabic of Hisham Bustani’s “Mirror, Mirror” appears in At Home in Translation: Canadians Translate the World, The Malahat Review’s Autumn 2014 theme issue on literary translation in Canada. The story is drawn from “The Perception of Meaning”, a larger collection of Bustani’s work that El-Rayyes has translated into English. In manuscript, it recently won the University of Arkansas Arabic Translation Award and will be published by Syracuse University Press.

John Barton: I am delighted to have had the opportunity to publish your translation of Hisham Bustani’s “Mirror, Mirror” in “At Home in Translation.” Can you provide a thumbnail sketch of Hisham Bustani’s career, his writing, and his place in Jordanian literary community?

Thoraya El-Rayyes: I wouldn’t say there is a Jordanian literary community as such. Partly because Jordan is a very small country (with a smaller population than New Jersey!), but also because—to a great extent—the Arabic literary community transcends national borders. Writers in Arab countries not only share the same language but also have a shared history. Hundreds of years under the rule of the Ottoman and European empires left behind many common traces in these countries, and there have been various pan-nationalist and religious movements that have connected people across the region.

Read the full dialogue…

Renegade Writers: A Dialog with Hisham Bustani, Naomi Shihab Nye, Thoraya El-Rayyes

From the Apogee Journal blog, Perigee.

3- Ezz Aldiyn Mujuwby Square - The Dancer (2)The following is a “round-email” discussion between Issue 4 contributors– Author Hisham Bustani and Arabic to English translator Thoraya El-Rayyes– with Poet Naomi Shihab Nye.  Their communication investigates experimental form, the commodification of art, and questions what literature can, and should, give to the world.  A special thanks to Apogee Staffer F. T. Kola who made this possible.


Cecca: Dear Naomi, Thoraya, and Hisham, It is my pleasure to put the three of you in touch.  This is all a bit of an experiment. Thanks for being willing to give this a go.  I have a couple questions I’ll throw out to set this dialog in motion: I was really taken by Hisham’s form. “The City is in My Chest”  begins as a nonfiction narrative that slowly transforms into a work of fiction. It strikes me that in the US there is a lack of experimentation with form in prose.  I am interested to know more about the author’s stylistic choices. And, as you are all aware, in the US there is a near blackout of non-anglophonic literature. In your opinions, what does contemporary Arab literature look like?

Read the full dialogue…

Stillness And Motion: In Conversation With Shireen Talhouni

From the Spring Sessions blog.

flock-1‘Consent/Tension’ was a series of workshops conducted at Spring Sessions by dancer Shireen Talhouni. The workshops culminated in a performance in the public spaces around the King Ghazi Hotel during which participants moved as a synchronized flock through the streets of Amman.

The initiative was an extension of Shireen’s work with the Flock collective, founded two years ago in London to investigate dance and performance with specific attention to the interaction with space. Here, Shireen discusses the experience with Thoraya El-Rayyes, a writer and literary translator who participated in the workshops. 


TR: A central theme in previous projects that the Flock collective has worked on is the feeling of alienation experienced by individuals in modern society, particularly in corporate settings. Do you think this theme was relevant to Flock’s project at Spring Sessions?

Read the full dialogue…

Author Hisham Bustani and Translator Thoraya El-Rayyes on Translating, Together

From the Arabic Literature (In English) blog.

Author Hisham Bustani and translator Thoraya El-Rayyes discuss how they have worked together to translate Bustani’s stories.

Hisham BustaniArabLit: Is there something you thought would be particular challenge to a translator (English-language or otherwise) about your stories? What was it?

Hisham Bustani: There are two challenges that will face a translator who is dealing with my stories. The first is the “feel” of the story; the second is the “flow”. “Feel” is related to my use of language as a tool to convey multiple layers of meaning about the themes I address. In my writing, there is a connection between the structure of the written piece and the subject matter. The structure of writing should reflect the subject matter, as it does in the plastic arts, where the structure itself (color, texture, form) is the only tool for expressing subjects and themes. I try to translate that into literary writing. A translator has to be able to grasp that aspect and be aware of the multiple layers of meaning, to be aware of the association and tension between the subject and the structure. A translator has to be aware of the multiple meanings and the psychological burden of the words, sentences and contexts. I think this feel is clearly reflected in the English translation of my story Nightmares of the City (first published in English in The Saint Anne’s Review, Summer/Autumn 2012, republished electronically on the Arab Literature (In English) website). Thoraya was very successful in relaying this into the English version.

Read the full dialogue…