Arabic Poetry and Stories in Translation – Life Journeys 8 November 2019 6.30pm Keynes Library

Arabic Poetry and Stories in Translation

A Series of Workshops at Birkbeck and SOAS presented by Marina Warner (Birkbeck) and Wen-chin Ouyang (SOAS)

8 November 2019

Haifa Zangana and Wen-chin Ouyang

Public event:

Life Journeys

6:30-7:30 pm

Keynes Library, 43 Gordon Square



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Words on the Move II – Timberlake Wertenbaker, Catherine Grant, Valentina Castagna, Marina Warner 17 June 2017

Words on the Move II

An Afternoon of Readings and Discussion

With Timberlake Wertenbaker, Catherine Grant, Valentina Castagna
Introduction by Marina Warner

June 17 2017 2pm-6.30pm

Keynes Library, School of Arts and Humanities,
Birkbeck College, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD


Cildo Meireles, Babel (2001)

The workshop “Words on the Move II” will reflect on current developments in broadcasting literary works and explore contemporary approaches to acoustic media, particularly by women and about women. Invited speakers will talk about oral and sound experimentation in performance and drama, written or adapted for radio or new digital platforms.  The workshop will also ask, ‘Can developments in the use of voice, ‘spoken word’ events, and the broadcasting of literary works inform the creative writing workshop as a collaborative and participatory space?’

Key Note Speakers:

Timberlake Wertenbaker, Playwright, adaptor, translator.

Dr Catherine Grant (University of Sussex; Professor of Digital Media and

Screen Studies at Birkbeck College, from Sept. 1 2017)

Dr Valentina Castagna (Associate Research Fellow, Birkbeck; University of


Words on the Move I (November 1, 2016) focussed on poetry in performance, in connection with the international project Stories in Transit (2016-ongoing), and the work of the Watadd Research Network, to nourish storytelling and other forms of expression in refugee communities. A full list of speakers and research questions is available at this link. This second event in the series ‘Words on the Move’ is also associated with Stories in Transit and the work of the Watadd Research Network, and is  addressed to scholars and lecturers interested in these themes, students from MA and PhD in English and Creative Writing from the School of Arts and Humanities of Birkbeck, as well as interested members of the public.


2.00 Introduction – Marina Warner

2.30 Timberlake Wertenbaker, ‘Breaking the Sound Barrier:  radio and the imagination’

3.30 Valentina Castagna, ‘”The snake under the sand”: Unearthing buried voices in Selma Dabbagh’s radio play The Brick.’

An exploration of the realistic radio play The Brick, written by Selma Dabbagh and produced by Sarah Bradshaw for BBC Radio 4 in 2014 (Afternoon Drama). On a difficult journey from Eizariya to Jerusalem, a Palestinian Christian woman named Rasha Khoury is forced to rediscover her family’s role into the community. With a specific eye on the use of the voice and sound in radio drama, I will be focusing on the main character’s journey towards a new understanding of her identity in relationship with gender issues and her own positioning within family myths and history.

4.30 Break

5.00 Catherine Grant,  ‘”The Dreaming Child” on the Move to the Radio: From Karen Blixen through Harold Pinter to Joanna Hogg’

An examination of the adaptation relay between Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen’s short story “the Dreaming Child” (1942), Harold Pinter’s unrealised screen play adaptation of this work (1997/2000), and the recently produced radio version of these works adapted and directed by celebrated British filmmaker Joanna Hogg for BBC Radio 4’s Unmade Movies series (2015).

5.30 -6.30 Q&A

The workshop is supported by the School of the Arts and Humanities, Birkbeck; the Contemporary Poetics Research Centre, Birkbeck; and the British Comparative Literature Association (BCLA)


Timberlake Wertenbaker is a playwright, translator, and active campaigner for literature and freedom of expression. With a striking combination of poetic imagination and activist conscience, she has revisioned myths about figures such as Hecuba, Antigone, Elektra from Greek tragedy, and Philomel from Ovidian myth.  Her many award-winning works for stage include Our Country’s Good and Jefferson’s Garden.  She has created many dramatic works for radio:  ‘Dianeira’,  a response/rewrite of Sophocles’s Women of Trachis (Radio 3) and the ‘playlet’ What Is the Custom of Your Grief? for the R4 series From Fact to Fiction; she has also undertaken major adaptations, of A.S. Byatt’s Possession for Woman’s Hour, and Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and last year, also for Radio 4, the acclaimed version of Elena Ferrante’s bestselling novel of female friendship, My Brilliant Friend; she is continuing work on the next volumes of the cycle. Her new drama, Winter Hill, with Cathy Tyson, Louise Jameson of Doctor Who Fame and Denise Black was recently playing at the Octagon, Bolton.

Catherine Grant currently lectures in film studies at the University of Sussex, where she researches matters of intertextuality, adaptation and authorship, and creative, critical and audiovisual forms of remediation. In September 2017, she will take up the post of Professor in Digital Media and Screen Studies at Birkbeck, University of London.

Valentina Castagna is a Lecturer of English Literature at the University of Palermo, Italy. She is currently an Associate Research Fellow at Birkbeck College, University of London. She has published books and articles in the field of Women’s and Gender Studies, on popular genres and rewriting. She is the author of Corpi a pezzi. Eretiche e sante secondo Michèle Roberts (Ferrara, Tufani, 2007), Shape-Shifting Tales. Michèle Roberts’s Monstrous Women (Peter Lang, 2010), and of Re-Reading Margery Kempe in the 21st Century (Peter Lang, 2011). She has edited and translated the Italian editions of Marina Warner’s radio play Birgit’s Cell (La cella di Brìgit, Palermo, Quattrosoli, 2010) and stories and radio plays included in the same author’s collection “Natural Limits” and Other Stories/“Limiti Naturali” e altre storie (Napoli, Liguori, 2014).

Marina Warner writes fiction and cultural history. Her books include From the Beast to the Blonde (l994) and Stranger Magic: Charmed States and The Arabian Nights (2011). Her essays on art will be collected in Forms of Enchantment (forthcoming Thames & Hudson).In 2015, she was awarded the Holberg Prize in the Arts and Humanities. She is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Birkbeck College, a Fellow of the British Academy and President-Elect of the Royal Society of Literature.




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Marina Warner Workshops: Arabic Poetry and Stories Translation Workshops – May-June 2017

Arabic Poetry and Stories Translation Workshops

‘It was and it was not…’: Translation in Action

(from Arabic into English)

May 11, May 25, June 6, June 27** 2017

**Please note the workshop on the 27th June will now take place in 

Room S118 , Paul Webley Wing (Senate House North Block) SOAS.

Professor Marina Warner (Birkbeck)

Professor Wen-chin Ouyang (SOAS)

In conjunction with the Contemporary Poetics Research Centre, Birkbeck. Directed by Steve Willey.



Workshop Topics and Dates

Workshop 1: May 11 The writer Hanan al- Shaykh will discuss her work with translator Catherine Cobham.

Topic: The Wiles of Women. Poetry and Stories from The 1001 Nights (2:30 to 5:30 pm, SOAS, B104)

Public reading. 6.30-8.00 pm (SOAS B104)

Workshop 2: May 25 The writer Hoda Barakat will discuss her work; with translator Marilyn Booth, Khalid bin Abdullah Al Saud Professor in the Study of the Contemporary Arab World, Oxford.

Topic: Mad Love. Nizami, The Seven Pavilions: The Tale of Leila and Majnun.   (2:30 to 5:30 pm, SOAS, SWLT)

Public reading, 6.30-8.00pm (SOAS SWLT)

Workshop 3: June 6 Writers tbc,  with Julia Bray, Laudian Professor, Oxford, and editor of Ibn Sai, The Consorts of the Caliphs.

Topic: Singing Girls. Poetry, stories, satire and elegy in the songs of the Abbasid qiyan (Birkbeck , Room 102, 30 Russell Square)

Workshop 4: June 27  The poets Tamim al=Barghouti and Yousif al-Qasmiyeh will read their work and discuss it.

Topic: Islamic Sicily or Siculo-Arab Literature: poems of Ibn Hamdis and others, and fables from Ibn Zafer, Solwan or the Waters of Comfort (Birkbeck, Room 102, 30 Russell Square)

**Please note the workshop on the 27th June will now take place in 

Room S118 , Paul Webley Wing (Senate House North Block) SOAS.

Final workshop in September/October will showcase the work completed over the summer.


16 places for CHASE PhD students; 10 places reserved for independent translators and scholars, for a total of 20 for each workshop.


A: The workshops proposed will adapt methods used for bringing Greek tragedy to an Anglophone reader and apply them to Arabic literature.

With the help of scholars of Arabic literature, who are interested in the wider transmission and enjoyment of their subject, students will work alongside poets, dramatists, translation theorists, and writers of fiction, in order to revision (‘awaken’) Arabic literary texts for contemporary readers/audiences.

It has become customary, for example, for a poet with no Greek or Anglo-Saxon to re-inhabit a myth or a legend and bring it to vigorous new life– famous examples include Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, Simon Armitage’s King Arthur, and the inspired contemporary revoicings of Ovid by Timberlake Wertenbaker and Kate Tempest. By contrast, the riches of classical and traditional literature in Arabic have in some sense been kept from those who cannot read or understand the language. The complexities of Arabic prosody and the vast range of genres and expressions of the Arabic and Persian narrative and poetic corpus seem to preclude access to all but scholars. Workshop participants will explore means and ways to make this literature accessible beyond the specialist circle.

The joint workshops themselves will examine how stories, motifs, characters, images travel across borders and migrate into new host cultures, moving into different languages, different genres, and on to different registers.

B: The workshops also set out to investigate collaborative exploration and discussion for translation/literary recreation in itself. Can the workshop model be a stimulus to the making of fresh, vigorous reawakened material from unfamiliar contexts and languages the writer-translator does not always know? The group sessions will provide the scope to be innovative about participation and collaboration for literary creativity.

Translators of the writers taking part will be present to discuss their task. However the project differs from strict translation, as applies to the work of contemporary Arabic novelists. The workshops are focusing on canonical/ancient/medieval/traditional material and its varying expressions because in this era of hostility to cultures associated with Islam, it is more important than ever to explore the riches of their vast literature and to understand the mutual entanglement of literary traditions.

These workshops will continue the project Stories in Transit, which undertakes nourishing storytelling and creativity in refugee communities. The project began in Oxford in May 2016 and Palermo in September 2016 and May 2017, and is a collaboration between Birkbeck, the University of Palermo, and the NGO Bibliothèques sans Frontières.

The material will include songs and squibs by medieval women poets, romances from Persia, the lyric poetry in Tales of the 1001 Nights, animal and other fables from Solwan, or The Waters of Comfort by Ibn Zafer from Sicily, written in the l2th century, or materials participants themselves propose.

Participants will attend all four workshops at which the visiting speaker and translator will address a text or group of texts; a general discussion about them will follow, leading to a choice of subject to develop work on over the summer and a reunion in the autumn to review the fruits of the workshop.  These will not aim to give faithful versions of the originals, but transpose them, sometimes even into a different form – eg poem to drama, story to song – the reawaken them and communicate them to readers and audiences today.


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