Banipal announces winner of prestigious Arabic translation literary prize

Banipal announces winner of prestigious Arabic translation literary prize
2 min read
12 January, 2021
The literary magazine has announced the winner of a translation prize as a Harvard lecturer.
Kay Heikkinen [Supplied]
The winner of Banipal's prestigious "Arabic Literary Translation Prize" has gone to Harvard translator Kay Heikkinen, for her work on Palestinian author Huzama Habayeb's novel Velvet.

The novel, which tells the story of a woman's life in a Palestinian refugee camp, has already won multiple awards including winning the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2017, one year after the novel was first published.

Speaking of the translation, the judges said:
"Hawwa's story is told in a rich, carefully crafted Arabic that represents a significant challenge for any translator, requiring stamina and resilience as well as accuracy and precision."

"The judges were impressed by the way in which Kay Heikkinen's translation has succeeded in conveying not only the sense but also the mood and emotion of the original, bringing to life a narrative that vividly portrays the repressive life of ordinary Palestinian women while scrupulously avoiding any hint of political platitude."

Heikkinen is a translator and academic who holds a PhD from Harvard University and is currently Ibn Rushd Lecturer of Arabic at the University of Chicago.

Reacting to the news, Heikkinen said:
"I am delighted at the recognition of Huzama Habayeb's accomplishment in writing such a beautiful human story of a courageous woman, who retains a capacity to be light-hearted in the face of crushing circumstances, and of her accomplishment in writing a new kind of Palestinian story, one that engages with politics only very indirectly."

Author Habayeb was also pleased with the translation and welcomed the award.

"It is a well-deserved award to the wonderful Kay Heikkinen, who has done a great job in conveying it into English," added Habayeb.

"Only love can produce a work like Velvet, both in Arabic and English. Thank you, Kay for your brilliant and passionate translation. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking care of Hawwa and Sitt Qamar, loving them as much as I had loved them, and feeling heartbroken for them as much as I had felt."

Huzama Habayeb is a Palestinian writer who was born and raised in Kuwait, where she started writing and publishing short stories, poetry, and journalistic pieces as a student of English language and literature.

When the Gulf War erupted in 1990, she fled to Jordan and established her reputation as a short-story writer.

Habayeb's first novel, Asl Al-hawa ("Root of Passion"), was published in 2007, gaining widespread critical acclaim.

Her second novel, Qabla an Tanama Al-Malika ("Before The Queen Falls Asleep"), published in 2011, was described by critics as an epic novel of the Palestinian diaspora.

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