How To Separate Mediocre, Good, and Great Stories in Translation

Arabic Literature (in English)

Translator Max Shmookler, who is currently co-editing a collection of Sudanese short stories with ArabLit contributor Raphael Cormack, explores the tension between what Sudanese readers think is a great story and the story that will appear “great” in English translation. This post is the first in a series, and originally ran on Baraza:

By Max Shmookler

sudan-palmsOne of the unexpected benefits of preparing an anthology is the chance to read through enough mediocre literature to begin to ask yourself what “mediocre” actually means. This summer, as Raph Cormack and I co-edit a book of Sudanese short stories in English translation, we are finding out that our attempts to distinguish the great stories from the mediocre raises interesting questions about competing literary aesthetics. Figuring out which stories to include and how to justify our selections to the publisher has been a hands-on lesson in how a literary canon, even a marginal canon…

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