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Library of Arabic Literature series translates into wider audience

Abu Dhabi International Book Fair: Supported by a grant from the New York University Abu Dhabi Institute, the series produces Arabic text side by side with modern English.

In 1935, the freshly minted Penguin publishing house introduced affordable paperbacks to the world and created a celebrated design scheme for the imprint's covers. Penguin's ground-breaking aesthetic - which mixed blocks of bright, banded colour with crisp, clean typography - has long been praised as classic and has since found its way onto every type of merchandising from iPad cases to mugs.

Fully 78 years later, another imprint, one with a foot placed firmly in the sand of Abu Dhabi, hopes to bring Arabic literature to the attention of a wider audience and, perhaps, use some of those same branding cues.

The Library of Arabic Literature series, which is supported by a grant from the New York University Abu Dhabi Institute and was established in partnership with the NYU Press, aims to produce 35 editions of Arabic literature and modern English-language translations in the next five years.

The series trawls both classics and unknown texts from Arabic literature and presents them in a manner designed to appeal to everyone from the general reader to the most knowledgeable scholar. Arabic and English are presented side by side on the pages in a "parallel-text format".

The well-respected NYU Press, which has been publishing scholarly and original works since 1916, has produced three volumes for the series so far: the Classical Arabic Literature anthology, The Epistle on Legal Theory and A Treasury of Virtues. Another four volumes are imminent, each one wrapped in an elegant and distinctive navy blue jacket.

Philip Kennedy, the Library of Arabic Literature series editor and vice provost of public programming for NYU Abu Dhabi Institute, and Chip Rossetti, the library's managing editor, will discuss the three published works, future editions and the challenges presented in translating such texts on the ADIBF discussion sofa tomorrow.

Kennedy says the idea is to "introduce the library into the local consciousness".

The series has, he says, several layers to it. Perhaps the deepest of those is the complex nature of translating classical or pre-modern texts in a contemporary style.

Arabic literature in translation has suffered in the past from poorly constructed and improvised translations that often contain bad English or, worse still, jargon.

The Library of Arabic Literaturecorrects those practices, he says. It is a "scholarly enterprise" committed to rigour, involving immersive editing and stringent production processes. The intention is to render these texts, each one presided over by a distinguished scholar, in the most definitive terms.

"This is an important venture that is about this part of the world and it is coming out of Abu Dhabi, so it is unique in terms of kudos," says Kennedy.

It is ambitious, too.

"We are not just doing the key classic works of literature," he says, "but everything."

The series will do so using an aesthetic that the imprint hopes will become recognisable wherever the book is stocked.

The idea, says Kennedy, is to publish sufficient volumes so that they occupy "a physical space in a bookshop that attracts your attention. There is a kind of gravity to it.

"You discover, just by handling the books, that they cover completely different subjects and different periods and you start to comprehend that there is this huge corpus of literature."

Introducing the Library of Arabic Literature is from 5.30pm April 24 on the ADIBF discussion sofa.

nmarch@thenational.ae

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