x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

How literature is changing in the Arab world: Suzanne Joinson

For five years, Suzanne Joinson worked across the Arab region for the British Council. She -explains how perceptions of the -literary scene have changed dramatically.

I had the most amazing trip to Syria in 2005, where I met the main writers and playwrights. We started to explore what was happening in terms of translation, distribution and which publishers in the UK might be interested in Arab writing. We spent about a year putting together a strategy to encourage all that and then worked on the Arab strand for the London Book Fair in 2008.

Books steadily started to come through that a western reader could get a grip on, and combined with the huge interest in the region and the various cultural initiatives, a really good feeling began to build.

Of course, there are still massive issues to deal with in translation. Sometimes it can feel like you're never going to bridge the gap: culturally, a family-run Egyptian publishing house operates in a different world in terms of how they pay a writer, what they do about royalties and how they distribute. Some can't understand why certain writers are embraced by the West, while authors they consider wonderful can't break through.

The great thing is that the energy is still there. The major problem is how to make money through books in the Arab world, of course. But then, that's the same everywhere.