The Banipal Trust for Arab Literature

Annual Lecture 2023

­A celebration of literary translation 
the Annual Lecture and the Winner
the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

6.00pm-9.00pm, Thursday 8 FEBRUARY 2024
The Brunei Gallery, SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, London WC1B 5DQ

to this free event, in-person and online


Renowned poet and poetry translator KHALED MATTAWA gives the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize Annual Lecture on Stations of Translation: Power, Eros, and Betrayal.  He will say that translation is as old human speech itself, a necessary capacity for articulation that is so integral to human interaction, and indeed survival, that ironically it has defied comparison to other aspects of life. One of the most obvious comparisons is that of aligning translation with eros, an analogy seen as very apt given the complicated emotional entanglements of both activities. Corollary elements to eros is the notion of betrayal as a common outcome of eros, and disparities in power between partners. My presentation will explore the historical dynamics of translation as eros, fraught as they are with possibilities of betrayal and fluctuations in power. Exploring the realms of interlingual, intercultural, and intersubjective translation, I will examine the dynamics of translation/eros from a postcolonial perspective, with a special focus on Arabic literature and in light of the transformative tragic events taking place currently in Gaza.

 Winner of the 2023 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for his translation of Mister N by Lebanese novelist Najwa Barakat, gives readings from the winning work and is in conversation with Chair of Judges ROS SCHWARTZ. The judges' report declared: "Capturing the spirit and the letter of the original in all its depth and virtuosity, Mister N is an exceptionally good example of the translator’s art. It is both faithful and creative, fully representing the original work with all its dark complexity, fragmented narration and splashes of sombre humour. The choices of structure, vocabulary, and idiom that Luke Leafgren has made, perfectly render the Arabic, recreating the obsessive fastidiousness of the protagonist, the ambiguous nature of his accommodation and the serial instability of the city around him."     


The evening was hosted by

SOAS Centre for Translation Studies
SOAS Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies
and the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature


About the speakers

Khaled Mattawa is the author of six books of his own poetry, and has translated twelve volumes of contemporary Arabic poetry to English. His translations of AdonisSelected Poems (2010) won the 2011 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, and his translation of Saadi Yousse'f selected poems, Without an Alphabet, Without a Face, won the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation (2003). His critical study, Mahmoud Darwish: The Poet's Art and His Nation was a finalist for the Pegasus Prize.

He was a founding contributing editor of Banipal, Magazine of Modern Arab Literature, and is a co-founder of the Arete Foundation of Arts and Culture, which supports and promotes the creative arts in Libya. Mattawa is the recipient of many Fellowships and awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship and the Academy of American Poets Fellowship among many others. He is the William Wilhartz professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan where he teaches in the Creative Writing program.

Luke Leafgren
, the Winner of the 2023 Prize for his translation of Mister N by Lebanese novelist Najwa Barakat, published by And Other Stories. Luke is an Assistant Dean of Harvard College, USA. He has published seven translations of contemporary Arabic novels and received the 2018 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for his translation of Muhsin Al-Ramli’s The President’s Gardens. In May 2023, And Other Stories published his translation of Shalash the Iraqi, by Shalash.  The judges said: "In smooth, self-effacing prose, enriched by a widely varied vocabulary, Luke Leafgren leads the reader seamlessly into Najwa Barakat’s creation of a labyrinthine world where all is not as it seems. The shifts in time and point of view are conveyed with aplomb, and the general effect is of a riveting psychological thriller written in delightfully rich and eloquent English." For the full report click here


Ros Schwartz is an award-winning translator from French. Acclaimed for her new version of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince (published in 2010), she has over 100 fiction and nonfiction titles to her name. She has translated a number of Francophone writers including Tahar ben Jelloun, Fatou Diome and Ousmane Sembène, and most recently Max Lobe’s A Long Way from Douala (HopeRoad).

The French government made Ros a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2009, and in 2017 she was awarded the John Sykes Memorial Prize for Excellence by the Institute of Translation and Interpreting. For the past two decades, Ros has been energetically involved in translator training. She gives masterclasses worldwide and is co-founder of a literary translation summer school, first held at Birkbeck in 2011, and later at City University and now at the University of Bristol.


The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

The prize is an annual award of £3,000 for literary translation from Arabic to English, made to the translator(s) of a published translation in English of a full-length imaginative and creative Arabic work of literary merit published after, or during, the year 1967. It was first awarded in 2006, and was then the only prize in the entire world for published books translated from Arabic.

The judging panel comprises four judges, two who read only the English translations, for the 2023 prize they are the chair of judges Ros Schwartz and Barbara Schwepke, and two who read both the Arabic originals and the English translations, this year they are Tony Calderbank and Sarah Enany – click here for their profiles. This eighteenth year of the prize has 20 entries. To see the shortlist click here, where you can also scroll down to see the books entered, who has translated them and who has published them.

The prize is administered by the Society of Authors in the United Kingdom, alongside all other UK prizes for literary translation from languages that include Dutch, French, German, Italian, Greek, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish, plus a prize for first translation into English from any other language. All are administered by the Society of Authors and awarded annually at a joint ceremony hosted by the Society. The prize is wholly sponsored by the Saif Ghobash family in memory of their husband and father, the late Saif Ghobash (21 October 1932 – 25 October 1977).  

For any more information about the prize, click here.

For the SOAS webpage for this event, click here.