Ayça Türkoğlu, Filiz Emre, Gitanjali Patel, Harriet Phillips, Jessie Spivey, Katharine Halls, Kavita Bhanot, Khairani Barokka, Naima Rashid, Nariman Youssef, Mohini Gupta and Reem Abou-El-Fadl
PEN Transmissions is English PEN’s magazine for international and translated voices. PEN’s members are the backbone of our work, helping us to support international literature, campaign for writers at risk, and advocate for the freedom to write and read. If you are able, please consider becoming an English PEN member and joining our community of over 1,000 readers and writers. Join now.
Founded in 2015, Shadow Heroes is an organisation whose aim is to create educational spaces that are critical, creative and value all languages. Our creative translation workshops explore the interconnected issues of representation, self-expression, colonial history and the power of language, supporting young people in embracing all sides of their linguistic and cultural heritages. They encourage critical reflection and conversation, opening up questions as opposed to offering fixed answers.
Collaboration is at the core of our work. We work with a network of 14 translators, writers, artists and poets who work from Arabic, Bissau Guinean Creole, French, German, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Turkish and Urdu. These fantastic individuals form the Shadow Heroes collaborator collective. Outside of the workshops, the collective comes together on a monthly basis, for an informal roundtable style discussion with a rolling chair. In May, we discussed the politics of place in our translation practise and workshops, querying assumptions of where translation happens, and how our experiences of place are formed.
What follows is a conversation which journeys through questions of psychogeography, hospitality and power dynamics, and draws together experiences in translation practice and in the classroom space. We opened with the question of how you approach translating language when it is closely linked to place. When an author writes about place, they approach it from a specific view, and with specific language. The translator is placed differently, and the reader too. How much do you explain, and how much do you leave unsaid?
Mohini Gupta: A place can symbolise different things: home, the motherland, a foreign place, trauma, joy, hiraeth – it can evoke so many emotions.
Naima Rashid: Yes – when we talk about translating place, I think it goes well beyond descriptions of locale. It includes the unwritten codes and understandings that inform a place’s way of being and thinking. It’s embedded at a very subliminal level, in manners of address, local sayings, dialects, proverbs – all reflections that embody ‘place’ without necessarily being about the mere physicality of ‘place’.
As a translator, it’s a huge responsibility to respect the codes of that community. You can’t simply take the language, which is a superficial feature, and transplant it into a Western setting. For example, in a certain community, there might be a balance or understanding of power that’s implicit in that community and comes across in the language. As a translator, it would be very irresponsible – and simply too easy – to take that and flatten it out in English, where those power dynamics do not exist. You have to try and find a way to render it so that this comes across to the reader, with a sense of the intent of the original use.
Harriet Phillips: I came across an interesting example of this in Alindarka’s Children by Alhierd Bacharevič. It’s set in Belarus and was originally written in a combination of Belarusian and Russian. Characters whose authority stems from colonial power structures speak Russian, while a minority of Belarusians who are trying to keep their native language alive communicate in Belarusian. The translators, Jim Dingley and Petra Reid, chose to render this power dynamic by translating the Russian text into ‘standard’ English (whatever that means) and the Belarusian into Scots. They managed to retain a strong sense of post-Soviet place, while conveying a notion of linguistic hierarchy due to the shared histories of colonial oppression.
Khairani Barokka: What Naima was saying really goes to decolonising geographies and psychogeographies. There are places that aren’t on Google Maps – side streets in Jakarta, for instance, that aren’t named on Google Maps. Not everything is under surveillance. These are spaces of community knowledge. Colonial geography dictates translation markets, and it’s always funny to me when someone asks, ‘How is this book Indonesian?’ Can they even name all the 700-plus cultures in Indonesia? How can you dictate what the place is like if you don’t even know all the geographies that make up that place?
In my mum’s village, the language is Baso Lintau. They don’t have North, South, East, West; they only have upstream and downstream, because things are so tied to the geography. If I was translating, I don’t think I would even use the words ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ in English: I would use the Lintau words for them, because it’s such a special thing. I’ve also heard people saying we should start calling Europe and the UK the Middle West, and the United States of America the Far West, because what the hell is ‘Far East’? Or, you know, the ‘Middle East’? It’s so weirdly colonial. In terms of pedagogy, and also in terms of practice and practices, I think it’s a great opportunity to decolonise perspective.
NR: To add to Okka’s point on how people in a certain community refer to places or how they define geography or give directions, this would be easy for another person from that local community to understand as compared to an outsider. Sometimes that lack of clarity, or that approximation, is a reflection of a specific worldview held by a community. Taking an example from a current project: when people want to designate a number, they don’t say ‘there were ten men’, they always say ‘there were around ten to twenty men’. Translating that estimate of quantity for expected guests at a gathering, I realised how strange it might seem to a Westerner. It’s because in Punjabi culture, where the story is set, hospitality and accommodation towards others is highly valued. There isn’t an invitation sent out for RSVP, where twenty people means strictly twenty people. It’s an open house: if there are twenty, they’re welcome. If there are 200, believe me, they’re also welcome, simply because there’s space in their heart. That core value gives them the resourcefulness needed to cater for the additional guests, however many. It might not be a notion that you can ever explain to a Westerner.
My in-laws, who remain very close to their rural roots, have these traditions and values in their house. Both my parents were busy city people – my mother a doctor, my father an engineer – and we lived a very different life. When I got married, I couldn’t understand how my in-laws were always prepared for a random ten people to show up for dinner. Initially, it was very frustrating, because the burden always fell on my mother-in-law, the woman in charge of the kitchen. But this is a value in their hearts and their minds: they will never refuse a guest. They would rather go hungry themselves than refuse their guests a meal. This is something that manifests very superficially in language, but behind that there’s a whole value system. Translating ‘place’ means honouring that value system.
Gitanjali Patel: Yeah, ideas around inviting someone to your house, or hospitality in general, are very context-specific. I was once invited to stay at someone’s house and asked to bring my own bedsheets and towel. This would be totally inconceivable in an Indian/desi context – if someone brought their own sheets it would be rude or embarrassing for the host, as it sort of implies their home isn’t warm, welcoming, and all the rest of it. I like the point that you make about how these nuances manifest themselves in the smallest linguistic details. When Naima was talking about words for quantity, I was thinking about how Gujarati has a similar thing: ‘dus ek’ – ten one – which means ‘around ten’. So if you said that dus ek jaṇa (people) were coming over to your house, you wouldn’t know, or need to know, the exact number. It speaks to how it doesn’t matter if there are a few more or less that come over, as all are supposed to be welcome.
Filiz Emre: ‘Guest from God’ is what we call unexpected or extra guests in Turkish – as in they are sent by God and you accept them.
MG: There’s a similar Sanskrit saying: ‘Atithi devo bhava’, which means ‘Guest is God’ (not even Guest is ‘like’ God). People take that extremely seriously. There’s a strong sense of ‘family-hold-back’, where a guest must receive lavish treatment from the hosts, irrespective of whether they can afford it. My mother grew up feeling resentful of her cousins, because expensive food and sweets would be bought while they were staying over, whilst she was never allowed to eat them, nor were ever bought in her honour.
It is this sense of Indian hospitality – of going out of your way to make the guest comfortable, and even of the attempt to portray yourself as wealthier than you are – that reflects in idioms and phrases within a language. There’s also the idea of speaking a different register of language in front of guests, of performing a language to index a different social position than the one you already occupy. Language plays an important role in this performance, and it would take a very nuanced translator to capture it in translation.
Kavita Bhanot: This made me think of my home, where there were always people coming around. Like you said, there’s always this kind of openness to guests. But it would mean that my dad would always tell visitors ‘No, no, no, you have to stay and eat this! There’s some aloo gobi and rotis, and everything’s made’ whilst my mum would be standing in the kitchen going, ‘What the hell, I haven’t made anything! I don’t even have any gobi!’
Naima mentioned how the burden falls on the woman in that house, and it made me think about how we aren’t just discussing cultural difference, but also how there are so many layers within culture and how you experience it – how my dad’s and my mum’s experiences of that situation are very different. You honour a power structure, but it’s subjective – somebody might be resisting that power structure from within, from a different perspective.
It’s impossible to generalise any community or any place. I think literature can never capture a place; it’s completely impossible. It’s filtered through the perspective of the characters, filtered through the writer, what they’ve read, experienced, their location, the structures of that society. When I write myself, and I’m trying to capture a place, I know, deep in my heart, that there’s no way of doing it any justice. I don’t know how this feeds into us thinking about decolonising translation of place. But maybe the first stage accepting is this, because one of the things that the colonial attitude does is to think that one text is capturing a country, or a city, or a whole people, or a village, when actually it’s impossible even to capture one home.
Jessie Spivey: And that the word ‘capturing’ is used in English to describe a place says a lot about the colonial mindset.
NR: Capturing, collecting, mapping – they’re all manifestations of a need to control.
Katharine Halls: I read Jeremy Tiang’s piece in Asymptote, ‘The World Is Not Enough’, before we started today. He talks briefly about the idea of the translator as tour guide, and the idea of reading books from other countries as being like travel. Talking about hospitality reminded me of this idea, in that different hospitality cultures are something that I think white tourists often encounter and are surprised and amazed by when they travel. It’s important to reflect critically on travel: of course, there’s a lot of self-discovery and learning involved in travelling, and I feel very lucky to have lived and travelled in many different places; it’s made me the person (and the translator) that I am. But I feel very resistant to the idea of travel as this exercise in self-discovery that’s generally only available to rich, white, non-disabled people. Most of the world’s population don’t get the chance to go to Latin America, take ayahuasca, and come to terms with their childhood traumas or whatever – it’s only a tiny and very privileged minority who do.
I wonder if we can reflect on the connection between hospitality cultures and traditions of welcoming outsiders, and the ways that as an outsider or traveller (whether that’s as a translator, or as a reader of translated literature) you can appreciate and respect the hospitality that you’re being shown. You should be able to learn from it but not exploit it, and not instrumentalise the experience of translation-as-travel as something that exists purely for your own edification.
KhB: And many brown and Black migrant workers who are vulnerable travel in a different way.
KH: Absolutely – for them, learning cultures and languages is an obligation, not a luxury that will furnish anecdotes for the next dinner party.
NR: Yes – if you look at it from a white perspective, life in a foreign country is seen as leisure, self-discovery, a year abroad. And if you look at it from the perspective of migrant workers, it’s a life sentence. They leave right after marriage, or before that, and never get to meet their extended families who live off their earnings. So that’s travel. But is it self-discovery?
JS: There are double standards around hospitality that come into play, too: in hospitality that might be shown to a tourist, and the experiences of immigrants in Britain. It makes me think about Bhanu Kapil’s How to Wash a Heart, about an immigrant guest and British citizen host, which shows a hospitality that comes with constraints, and rules, and strings attached. So it isn’t really hospitality at all. I suppose there’s a similar false, or demanding, hospitality offered to literature in translation here, in English, which seems to have very little space for plus-ones (let alone plus-hundreds!), and demands certain behaviours, certain limited ways of being.
GP: This lack of hospitality, or hostility, applies to ideas around the English language itself, what it is, what it “should be”.
KhB: I often think about the case of employers in the UK, for instance, who employ Indonesian domestic workers and then read a book about Indonesia. What is that travel? There’s a privilege of travelling through books in a way that’s more comfortable than acknowledging the realities of somebody who lives that space. I think it points to a closedness, to the ways in which travel represents deliberate isolationism.
In a similar way, I’ve been thinking about reification of place as associated with reification of ‘cultural competence’. For example, white people who have lived in South-East Asia for relatively very short periods of time can be deemed ‘experts’ on the region. Can we say we know a culture well just because we lived in a place, when we may still live lives that are cut off from local culture?
KaB: I suppose it raises the question of why we read literature in translation: there’s this idea that we read translation to “see the world”. But that’s a colonial mindset. I agree very much with the point that you can’t divorce this from what else a person does with their life, and how they relate to other people from the places about which they’re reading. But I’ve read books because I want to know about places, of course – we’ve all internalised this colonial understanding of literature to an extent.
GP: One of the things that I think is related to this idea of translating place and travel is the notion that translation is an act of empathy, because you’re putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. I’ve always found that a bit of a difficult topic. It’s seen to be an act of generosity and rarely discussed critically, especially in the context of how translation played a central role in the colonial project of fully understanding ‘the other’.
FE: I think we should use the word empathy with more caution in general, because it assumes that you would develop empathy to anything and everything with equal measure, without bias. But you always do develop empathy towards things closer to your experience. A translator, or a reader, is going to bring certain preconceptions, is going to be more empathetic towards certain things
KaB: I totally agree about the preconceptions we bring to books. And that’s not necessarily just something the reader brings to the text; it can be in the work itself. For example, you’ll often get somebody whose circumstances get worse; they start off rich, or middle class, and when they have to go through hardship we feel more sorry for them because we feel that they don’t deserve to go through that. There’s almost an implicit idea that if everybody else is going through that, it’s not so bad. But we have empathy for that person in particular; we identify with them. You get these tropes in literature all the time. I think if we really unpack the ideologies within the stories, there’s always something that’s directed towards certain readers and supposed to invoke so-called empathy or connection with them.
Nariman Youssef: This makes me think of Katherine Mansfield’s short story ‘The Garden Party’, where the heroine is from the rich family who live at the big house, and they’re having a party and someone in the poor neighbourhood that they overlook from their big mansion dies. The protagonist, who, on the surface, stands in contrast to the rest of her family because she has empathy with the poor, goes to visit the mourning home at the end of the day, bringing leftovers from the party. But as soon as she gets there, the dynamic completely changes. You realise her empathy doesn’t mean anything, not even to her. She remains distant and protected from whatever she encounters. It’s a really apt metaphor for the experience of developing empathy through reading about foreign places and foreign experiences. It’s a position that presumes privilege; presumes that the reader is stepping down, walking down the hill from their mansion, to receive this foreign thing. Why is that? If you think about translation from languages that are more “powerful” into those that are less powerful – like from the coloniser’s language into colonised, or formerly colonised, languages – the dynamic is completely different.
NY: Returning to the question of ‘capturing a place’: I was translating a Moroccan short story a few months ago, and it contained a long description of a man walking in the desert. When I read it in Arabic, I got the feeling of the expanse of this desert, which also mirrors the protagonist’s loneliness, etc. In translation, I noticed that it runs the risk of being simply a story about the desert, emphasising the foreignness of the place. There was a challenge of how to stay close to the sense of the place without adding a layer of it being foreign, or exotic.
MG: This is a tough balance to strike. It is best to keep it simple, not explain too much or use too many footnotes, and hope to provide the reader with a seamless experience. I trust the intelligence of the reader and their ability to search for meanings of basic words in Hindi, which I leave in my translation instead of overexplaining. This is done very deftly in the English translation of the Kannada novella Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag, translated by Srinath Perur, where the title of the book is taken from a term used by the protagonist’s wife’s family to describe a messy, sticky situation. Names of places and words for other cultural references are left as they are in the translation, giving you a sense of the original context yet providing an effortless reading experience in English, without indulging in exoticism or summary.
KH: I loved the metaphor of the Goldilocks Zone in Jeremy Tiang’s article – how far away a planet can be from a sun if it is to sustain life. Too close to the sun, and everything gets burned; too far, and it’s too cold for life to survive. Likewise with our translations: they’re expected to be foreign enough for the reader to feel like they’re getting something genuine, but not so foreign that they disengage. Some of these issues are extratextual and are simply beyond our control as translators. There are people who will read a translation and understand that they’ve just read one text by one writer, rather than a representative sample of a given culture; there are others who will read it as a thing to tick off their list, like some people do with travel. But even if we as translators can’t control all this, I think it’s something that people adjacent to translators, like publishers and the cover designers, have some influence over.
NY: I agree with you, but I also think that because we always have an assumed audience in mind, we can use this awareness to make choices that might play into these ways of reading or resist them. Questions like how much to retain from the source language. For example, I like retaining transliterations of placenames, or of local terms for things, especially place-specific words or expressions in a local dialect that I had to do some research to understand. But then, thinking of the Goldilocks Zone metaphor, I wonder where that boundary is, between respecting the specificity and unwittingly playing into expectations of exoticism about that particular place?
Reem Abou-El-Fadl: I’ve also had a similar issue translating scenes from an Egyptian nativity or saint’s festival. These take place in the city’s popular quarters, and they are already ‘exotic’ in some way to the protagonist of the memoir, who is part of a rising middle class, but they are of course that much more so to most English language readers, and that is something I need to temper. Meanwhile, I need subtly to convey signs of the author’s familiarity with the whole ritual as part of the popular calendar, especially as he’s actually a migrant to Cairo from a rural setting where such events are even more common.
KH: That’s a spiny issue with vast transnational languages like Arabic. I had a lexical item like that come up recently in an Egyptian book: it was a term that an Egyptian reader would get completely, but a reader of Arabic from anywhere outside Egypt wouldn’t. So when you’re deciding on who your English reader is, you’re also having to decide what kind of Arabic reading experience you want to reproduce, because there’s a local one that’s familiar with the context, dialect and so on, and there’s a more removed one that knows the language but doesn’t necessarily have that familiarity.
JS: I’m interested to know how this played out in your recent co-translation of Selim Özdoğan’s The Blacksmith’s Daughter, Ayça.
Ayça Türkoğlu: With The Blacksmith’s Daughter, the author translated specific Turkish words into German because he didn’t want anything to be orientalist. He wanted the reader to build a picture of what the thing is. When you read the word ‘dried grape juice’, what do you picture? It turned out they were little pastilles of dried grape juice, from a part of Turkey I’ve never been to. And we went with that, in the Turkish, and we didn’t italicise it.
Neither the author nor I grew up in Turkey, so we’ve got this quite narrow view of the country. But the book is very close to the protagonist’s heart and feelings, and we see everything through her perspective. When you start to italicise overexplain things, it feels like you’re estranging her from her own experience in a way that doesn’t feel genuine.
NY: I’ve been thinking lately about the concept of translation as a bridge. Is that where we translators reside? On the bridge? Or do we spend our days crossing and recrossing? The image feels inadequate to me. What alternative place metaphors might work?
KH: The bridge motif is inadequate for tons of reasons, but one of the obvious problems with it is that it imagines the languages in question as two separate physical locations, which is really not a very apt metaphor for languages.
GP: The bridge also implies that that translation happens between one named language and another named language, as if each of these languages are whole and static. Most people’s experiences of language are more dynamic, varied, multiple.
RA: I find the metaphor of the bridge quite alien because, as Gitanjali says, this is not how we experience language, nor what enables us to translate. Rather we are embedded in all the diverse cultures and life-worlds that can be loosely associated with each language (or dialect), and we interpret between and among them as the text suggests and as we feel and experience it. We don’t have a fixed vantage point, from a bridge or anywhere else, from which we look (down!) at the text and the imagined reader – that all implies static detachment, and some kind of false equidistance, when in fact we have to be as nimble as our author and reader at once, and appreciate their mobile and relational identities too.
Our collective discussions directly feed into and shape our workshops. We believe collaboration, criticality and exchange are essential values within educational spaces. These enable our ideas, and our workshops, to be in a continual process of becoming.
Our May meeting ended with reflections on how the questions discussed manifest and are navigated in our workshops. How might initial assumptions about places in translation and places of translation be nuanced or resisted? How does the workshop space change the way we think about, and practise, translation?
FE: In my workshop, I propose translation as a tool for care-based resistance. We start off by talking about where people live, and looking at the agglutinative feature of Turkish nouns. We look in particular at two words: kondu, meaning ‘mansion’, and gecekondu, an informal settled neighbourhood.
When I was preparing the workshop, I saw translation taking place in the final activity that focuses on an excerpt from a novel. But it actually comes much before that. On one level, there are the words describing different types of housing. Then they acquire connotations and judgements through use, and that stigma is consequently transferred to the inhabitants as well. The prejudice and judgement is then perpetuated and cemented in language as the word is used figuratively as well.
I think that the excerpt from Berji Kristin: Tales from the Garbage Hills by Latife Tekin has a particularly caring and neutral tone and manner in describing the building of a gecekondu neighbourhood, and in the main activity we try to take this one step further in translation. Having made an earlier group definition of care, we look at how we can ‘care’ while translating the text, and the workshop concludes with an invitation to apply this translator’s perspective to other areas of reading and life.
HP: My workshop also addresses the words around the home. It is based on Russian feminist protest placards, and one of the placards we look at addresses place in terms of immediate surroundings. It’s a combination of words and images, and the literal translation I provided was: ‘Is my 🏠 a fortress or a prison?’ We talk about the meaning accorded to images/symbols in different cultures, the difference between a house and a home in English, how this nuance plays out in other languages and the domestic space as a safe or unsafe place.
KhB: I based my workshop on an indie rock song by the band C’mon Lennon called ‘Aku Cinta J.A.K.A.R.T.A.’, which means ‘I love Jakarta’. It also talks about the little-known-in-the-UK history of British colonisation of Indonesia, in Jakarta, and how Jakarta is the capital city of a colonial state, Indonesia, which occupies Papua. The members of that band, and myself, are very proud Jakartans, but that’s different from thinking of Jakarta as part of the nation-state’s idea of Jakarta. It raises questions of how you define a city. Do you define it by the people there, which is how I defined it? Or by more colonial formation?
MG: My workshop also raises questions of the impact of colonialism on language and geography. ‘Your English, My English’ is quite directly about place in the sense that I talk about the directions of linguistic exchanges: from English into other languages, but also the assimilation of Indian-origin words into the Oxford English Dictionary (such as guru, shampoo, cheetah, bungalow, juggernaut). I focus on interactions between places and languages, and how it is natural to start forming stereotypes about people depending on where they come from and which language they speak. This moves into a discussion on language hierarchies and the need for us to question our own biases around language superiority, and ideas of shame associated with some of our own ‘mother tongues’. The question of colonialism also comes into the discussion as a direct factor of these linguistic exchanges as well as the formation of these hierarchies due to power dynamics between different countries.
The translation exercise in my workshop is associated with the concept of ‘time’. It pushes the students to rethink the Western, rigid concept of ‘time’, and embrace more fluid approaches to time through poetry translation. This brings out various clashes of culture and differences in ways of thinking about concepts we take for granted, and very directly transposes the readers into an entirely different cultural universe in which the idea of time is more cyclical and fluid, and the word for ‘tomorrow’ and ‘yesterday’ is the same.
RA: In my workshop, students translate a satirical poem in Egyptian vernacular Arabic, which pokes fun at the hypocrisy of the wealthy and ruling classes, and ruefully celebrates the steadfastness of the poor and less privileged in so doing. It speaks of multiple, ostensibly very different ‘places’ from those familiar to a London secondary-school student, but in the workshop I try to show that very similar places exist here in the UK – that some around us may be inhabiting those places as we speak, and that the same instruments of wry humour and critique are enabling their survival and resistance of that similar status quo. I didn’t go explicitly into the details of our neoliberal economy, or the reality of foodbank Britain, but a bit of background on Egypt in the 1970s and the effects of certain policies made the point. A short exchange about Spitting Image and Mock the Week after that, and something clicked.
At the same time, I did not imply that to translate means to erase difference – on the contrary – and the poem’s vernacular style and extremely ‘local’ references took care of that to a large extent. But also, the ‘place’ of poverty and inequality in the UK was not necessarily familiar to these students, or one they had thought of in such terms, so they still had to make an effort to imagine and understand both. I hope this made for some productive discomfort in the workshop, and a critical perspective afterwards. The students certainly demonstrated an enthusiasm and openness to the poem, which I found both exciting and moving.
A workshop is a flexible space, shaped by the young people taking part, their perspectives and their experiences. Rather than a means of discovering a place, translation can be a means of building self-awareness, and greater awareness of those around us.
For more about Shadow Heroes workshops, and the ethos behind them, visit https://shadowheroes.org/.
Ayça Türkoğlu is a literary translator from German and Turkish into English. She studied European and Middle Eastern Languages at the University of Oxford before completing her MA in Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia. Her writing and translations have been published in Words Without Borders, In Other Words and renk magazine.
Filiz Emre is a Turkish translator based in London. She was born in Turkey and has lived in Switzerland, France and the UK working as an English teacher and freelance language professional. She has translated numerous children’s books from English to Turkish and works closely with Turkish-speaking communities in London as a public sector interpreter. She volunteers for various community projects working through arts, storytelling and food to tackle inequality and negative narratives around migrant communities.
Gitanjali Patel is a translator and researcher. She translates in a range of media, from film to fiction. She has a master’s degree in social anthropology from SOAS, University of London, and also uses translation within social research projects, including a study on the emergence of favela community museums, which won the Jon M. Tolman Award at the BRASA XIV Congress. In 2016, she co-founded Shadow Heroes, an organization that explores translation as a social justice practice through school workshops and translator training.
Harriet Phillips is a Scottish translator based in Edinburgh. She studied German and Russian at the University of Cambridge, during which time she spoke about Russian feminist activism at Pushkin House and was the winner of the 2020 University of Warsaw Prize for Literary Translation. She is currently working as a historical researcher for award-winning author Jack Fairweather, as well as co-translating an encyclopaedia of Russian avant-garde art with Fontanka Books. An avid linguist, she has studied French, Spanish, German, Italian, Russian, Modern Greek, Polish and Ukrainian to date.
Jessie Spivey is a London-based translator from French. She has enjoyed working on projects for Emmaus International, Il Cinema Ritrovato and the first of the Hotel Cordel series: Detour/Détours. She can also be found at independent publishers Les Fugitives and HopeRoad.
Katharine Halls is an award-winning Arabic-to-English translator from Cardiff, Wales. Her translation, with Adam Talib, of Raja Alem’s novel The Dove’s Necklace (Duckworth / Overlook, 2016) received the 2017 Sheikh Hamad Award and was shortlisted for the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize. Her translations for the stage have been performed at the Royal Court theatre and the Edinburgh Festival. She loves translating colloquial Arabic and to date has worked with Egyptian, Sudanese, Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian, Iraqi, Saudi and Algerian dialects. She was awarded a 2021 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant for her translation of Haytham El-Wardany’s short story collection Things That Can’t Be Fixed.
Kavita Bhanot is ECR Leverhulme Fellow at Leicester University. She is editor of The Book of Birmingham (Comma Press), Too Asian, Not Asian Enough (Tindal Street Press) and the Bare Lit Anthology (Brain Mill Press) and is currently co-editing an anthology on decolonising translation with Jeremy Tiang (Tilted Axis). She wrote the landmark essay ‘Decolonise not Diversify’ (2015), founded the LitMustFall Collective and co-organised the Literature Must Fall Festival (2019). She is reader and mentor with The Literary Consultancy and on the board for Comma Press. Her novel won third prize in the 2018 SI Leeds Literary Prize. She was awarded an Emerging Translator Mentorship 2018 (National Centre of Writing.)
Khairani Barokka is a Minang-Javanese writer and artist, with two decades’ experience translating professionally. Okka’s work has been presented in 16 countries, and she was Modern Poetry in Translation’s Inaugural Poet-in-Residence. She’s currently Research Fellow at University of the Arts London, UK Associate Artist at Delfina Foundation, and Associate Artist at the UK’s National Centre for Writing. Okka’s latest book is Ultimatum Orangutan (Nine Arches).
Description for headshot: Black and white photo of an Indonesian woman with short hair, earrings, and a patterned dress, lying down on her front, pen in hand, ready to write. credit: Derrick Kakembo.
Mohini Gupta is a DPhil student at the University of Oxford where her research explores the politics of language in South Asia, with a focus on sociolinguistic hierarchies between English and Indian languages. She founded the multilingual digital collective Mother Tongue Twisters to promote Indian language poetry for young readers. Mohini is a SOAS alumna and previously a Charles Wallace India Trust Translator-Writer Fellow, a Research Fellow at the Sarai programme at CSDS, and a translator-in-residence at the Sangam House in Bangalore. She has written extensively on languages, literature and translation and her translations have been published by Tulika Publishers. She is also a trained Indian Classical vocalist and a Western Classical pianist.
Naima Rashid is an author, poet, and literary translator. She has translated works by Perveen Shakir (Defiance of the Rose, Oxford University Press, 2019), and is translating Naulakhi Kothi by Ali Akbar Natiq (forthcoming, Penguin India, 2022), both from Urdu into English. Her forthcoming works include her own fiction, poetry, and other works of literary translation. Her work has been widely published in reputed journals and magazines such as Asymptote, The Scores, Lucy Writers’ Platform, Poetry Birmingham, and Wild Court, among others. She was long-listed for the 2019 National Poetry Competition.
Nariman Youssef is a Cairo-born, London-based semi-freelance literary translator. She holds a master’s degree in translation studies from the University of Edinburgh, manages a small translation team at the British Library, and curates translation workshops with Shadow Heroes. Her literary translations include Inaam Kachachi’s The American Granddaughter (Interlink Books, 2021), Donia Kamal’s Cigarette Number Seven (American University in Cairo Press, 2018), and contributions in Words Without Borders, The Common, Banipal, and the poetry anthologies Beirut39 (Bloodaxe, 2014) and The Hundred Years’ War (Bloomsbury, 2010).
Reem Abou-El-Fadl is Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics of the Middle East at SOAS, University of London, and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She is a heritage speaker of Arabic and learned Turkish during her studies at the University of Oxford. She is currently translating an Arabic language memoir on Egyptian and African liberation movements, and uses Arabic and Turkish to English translations extensively in her research. Her work explores the politics of protest, decolonisation, and transnational solidarity in Middle East and Afro-Asian spaces.