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The Arabooks Initiative

Monday 19 November 2007 by Natasha Mullins

The Arabooks Initative

From 2005, Next Page began tackling fundamental problems and deficits in Arab publishing that were identified and described in the Lost and Found in Translation Report.

Based on this report, a year of pilot work and input from many organizations, publishers, cultural institutions and the program’s advisory commitee, Next Page launched projects in the following areas:

1. data on Arab readership: Readership Survey

2. support for translation and publication of Arabic books: translation grants for translations from neighbouring countries (South-South Translation project) and from Eastern Europe (East-South Translations and Encounters)

3. addressing the deficits in young adult books: Read Write Now

4. assessing publishers’ IT usage and habits: IT Tools for Publishers Survey

5. convening and mobilizing organizations around the issue of promotion of Arabic literature abroad


Lost and Found in Translation report

Comissioned and executed as early as 2005, the report is still an usefull source for anyone interested in publishing and translations in Arabic. It provides a comprehensive, historical and current overview of translation activities, policies and players in the Arab world. The Lost and Found in Translation report is available here->.

Readership Survey "What Arabs Read"

Pilot work along with the 2004 report on the state of translations in the Arab world commissioned by Next Page, highlighted the virtual absence of empirical data on Arab readership, a void that directly impacts both the state of publishing and translation and in a broader sense has widescale implications on education in the Arab world. In response, Next Page commissioned nationally representative surveys (of the literate population) on readership in 9 Arab countries. This survey represents not only the first multi-country comparative work on readership but also the starting point for empirical data collection on readership in each of the 9 countries. The reports together with expert commentaries of the survey outcomes are available in our Resources section here.

South-South Translations

“South-South” translations is an initiative to translate and publish works from countries with linguistic, cultural and historic ties with the Arab world such as Iran, Turkey and India, into Arabic. To facilitate publishers’ choice, the Next Page Foundation was providing lists of titles recommended for translation from Turkey, Iran and India. The tender was open for invited publishers from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Palestine. 17 titles with 6 publishers from 5 countries were short-listed for the grant scheme as detailed in the table below. 3 titles were cancelled due to poor translation quality, copyright problems or other reasons. While the program was aiming at supporting translations directly from the original, the lack of translation capacity in the Arab world forced publishers to often make use of English as a bridge language. All translations into Arabic were subject to an independent quality evaluation comissioned by Next Page prior to being published.

A list of South-South translation project grants is available here.

East-South Translation Project and Encounters

These programs aim at facilitating to create conditions for a cultural dialogue between Arabic-speaking countries and Turkey, from one hand and the languages of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. This approach is consistent with Next Page’s core competency in facilitating exchange amongst “non-mainstream” languages and is particularly relevant in the current environment, where countries seek alternative models and perspectives beyond those offered by the West. The East-South translations support from Central and Eastern Europe aimed to offer a valuable glimpse into a region that is relatively unknown to the Arab world yet straddles “East” and “West” and exemplifies the variety and diversity of approaches and stories that exist beyond the traditional confines of the Europe-Middle East division. Results from the East-South grants scheme are available here.

The program was implemented in close cooperation with Sphinx agency from Cairo, and in 2008 was expanded into the Encounters program that consists of:
-   series of studies on translation flows between the languages of the South Med and eastern Europe;
-   a grant scheme for publishers to support translations between the two regions.

Read Write Now. An initiative to develop young adult books and reading

Read Write Now is an initiative to promote reading and writing for Arab young adults. It tackles the lack of quality original Arabic books for young adults by stimulating interest in reading (via literature festivals) and supporting the development of new content (via authors’ workshops and grants for books). The project is founded on the principle that books provide access to information and ideas which are vital to engaging young people in dialogue and enabling them to actively participate in the societies they live in.

The project is managed by a network of local partners – Tamer Institute in Palestine, Biblioteca Alexandrina in Alexandria, and Mawred Culture Resource in Cairo with support from Next Page, the British Council and Escuela de Traductores de Toledo. Activities commenced in January 2007 when the first literature festival was held in Ramallah. A second festival was held in Alexandria in March 2007. Phase 2 was completed in March 2007 with a 5-days workshop of training and story development for authors aspiring to write for young adults. Read Write Now shortlisted 11 authors of Arabic fiction for young adults and finally selected fourt titles for publication.

Read Write Now was generously supported by a grant from Anna Lindh Foundation and OSI-Budapest.

IT Tools for Publishers’ Survey

During late 2005 to early 2006, Next Page, in collaboration with the OSI Tool-sets program, conducted an IT Tools for Publishers Survey with over 30 individuals involved in various aspects of publishing in 12 Arab countries. The survey aims were:
-  to understand awareness, availability and usage of IT tools (hardware, and software)
-  to understand the IT gaps and needs to assess the status and prospects for e-publishing The IT Tools for Publishers’ Report is available here.

Promotion of Arabic literature abroad.

In 2006, inspired by its local partners, Arabooks began to explore the idea of contributing to the establishment of an institution to promote Arab literature abroad. We co-organized a panel discussion at the Arab Thought Foundation Annual Translation Conference which took place in May 2007 in Amman, Jordan. The international panel titled “Prospects for Promotion of Arabic Literature Abroad – models and experiences,” and organized by Next Page addressed the demand side of the translation equation and explored successful experiences and strategies transferable from other countries and regions in promoting national literatures. Since 2006 the issue of the need for special effords in promoting Arabic literature abroad was taken over by a number of private and public institutions in several Arab countries. Next Page remained committed to assisting with transfer of know-how but did not invested further resources into this program stream.

In addition to these projects, Arabooks is assisting numerous other organizations and potential grantees in developing projects and programs related to publishing and translations in the Arab world.