The Banipal Trust for Arab Literature

Annual Lecture 2020


Creating a Mosaic of Literature

A virtual event, part of the Autumn programme of the British Library

alongside the ongoing exhibition and events
'Unfinished Business: The Fight For Women’s Rights’

Wednesday 11 November 2020
7.30-8.30pm GMT

This year’s Saif Ghobash Banipal Translation Prize Lecture is given by the well-known Palestinian novelist, short story writer and film director, Liana Badr. In her talk, Liana Badr describes how she grew up in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Jerusalem, where welcoming strangers and visitors of whatever nationality or religion was an established tradition. The city was also home to a cultured elite, who celebrated the art of translation. She will talk about the diversity of writings, nationalities and people encountered in her early years in Jerusalem creating a rich mosaic, from which she learned valuable lessons about life and tolerance.

Liana Badr’s life changed when, at the age of eleven, she read a translation of Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind, showing her the history of the American Civil War through powerful characters and events. Later after completing a degree in philosophy and psychology she began to study English literature. When her own writings were translated into other languages, she felt she was writing for a universal reader.

Liana Badr explains how war disrupted her personal life, making her family exiles in 1967, and denying her the opportunity of returning to her homeland for twenty-seven years. Today, the road between Jerusalem, her family home, and Ramallah, where she now lives, is divided by a security barrier. By contrast, she observes that translators in the ancient world were regarded as symbols of peace and that, to this day, translations still lead to tolerance, love and mutual understanding.

   The Eye of the Mirror by Liana Badr, translated by Samira Kawar   A Balcony over the Fakihani   In the House of Silence includes an essay by Liana Badr

Liana Badr is a well-known Palestinian novelist, short story writer and film director. Born in 1950 in Jerusalem, she lived between Jericho and Jerusalem. Exiled from Jericho in 1967, she has lived in Amman, Beirut, Damascus and Tunis, and since 1994 in Ramallah. She studied at the University of Jordan and the Lebanese University, has a BA in Philosophy and Psychology from Beirut Arab University and an MA from Birzeit University in Contemporary Arabic Literature.

Her first novel, A Compass for the Sunflower, was published in 1979 (English edition translated by Catherine Cobham, Women’s Press, 1989). A book of novellas, A Balcony over the Fakihani, came out in 1983 with editions published in Damascus, Cairo, Palestine and Jordan. Its English version came out ten years later, translated by Peter Clark and Christopher Tingley. In 1991, her novel The Eye of the Mirror was published (English edition translated by Samira Kawar, Garnet Publishing, Arab Women Writers Series, edited by Fadia Faqir, 2008). Published as supplementary to the series was In the House of SIlence, an anthology of essays by Arab women writers, including Liana Badr.  In 1993 her novel Stars Over Jericho, which has French and Italian versions but not yet English, came out.

Her latest novel is The White Tent (reviewed by Fadia Faqir in Banipal 58, 2017, and available here to read online).

Liana Badr also has four collections of short stories with many individually translated for various international anthologies, three collections of poetry, two non-fiction works on Mahmoud Darwish and on Fadwa Tuqan, plus many essays on aspects of her life and literature for international publications, as well as twelve children’s books. Banipal 62 (Summer 2018) published her essay All I Want to Do is Write, in the regular feature on authors' Literary Influences. Her short story "One Sky", translated by Becki Maddock, was published in Banipal 57 (Spring 2018) and is available to read online here.

Her works have translations into several languages, including English, French Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Bulgarian and Norwegian.

Between 1999 and 2007 she has also directed seven documentary films, which have received many international awards, and written several film scripts.