Alice Guthrie is an independent translator, editor, researcher, and curator specialising in contemporary Arabic writing. Her translation of Gazan writer Atef Abu Saif’s story “The Lottery” won her the Jules Chametzky Translation Prize 2019. Her translation of the complete short stories of the maverick Moroccan gender activist Malika Moustadraf was published in February 2022 by Feminist Press (US) and Saqi Press (UK). Her bilingual editorial and research work aims to be part of the growing movement to decolonize Arabic-English literary translation, including its evaluation and publication. Alice programmes the literary strand of London’s biennale Shubbak: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture and has curated Arab arts events for Edinburgh International Book Festival, Outburst International Arts Festival and Arts Canteen (London). She teaches undergraduate and postgraduate Arabic-English translation around and about, including at the University of Birmingham and the University of Exeter.
Alice Guthrie has translated and edited works from Arabic into English from all Arabic-speaking countries. She sources new books from speaking to friends, by word of mouth, and by going to book fairs in the Arab world. Works will often find her, “coming my way,” she says.
She likes to focus on feminist and/or queer “very contemporary subaltern voices and slang and dialects; the language of the people appeals to me.”
She is often published in the US; she thinks this may be because publishers tend to be more progressive there than in the UK, “with some notable exceptions”. She observes that in general there are waves of subjects that are in vogue in publishing, and that there can be “an obsession with finding the Arab so-and-so, the ‘Arab Murakami’; rather than a writer being interesting in their own right.”
She’d like to see books from the Arab world that are published “coming from a wider base of recommendation, with more brilliant progressive contemporary writers, and more ‘difficult’ writers, especially from North Africa, culturally significant in the source culture,” she says, noting, for example, a novel written in 2014 that addresses Amazigh identity and the relationship with the land.
“In terms of reading literature in translation in the UK it’s such a small market overall and Arabic is such a small slice of that that it’s impossible for it to be representative of the breadth of the Arabic publishing scene, so I’d like to see more books being published, and done better.”