Elisabetta Bartuli researches contemporary Arabic literature and trans-cultural dialogue and translates from Arabic to Italian. She is a scout for Arabic Literature at various publishing houses and cultural institutions where she introduces Arab authors. She taught Arabic literature from 2000 to 2020 at Ca’ Foscari University, Venice, and teaches literary translation from Arabic to Italian at Scuola Superiore Mediatori Linguistici,Vicenza. Her translations from Arabic include works by authors such as Elias Khoury, Jabbour Douaihy, Rabee Jaber, Habib Selmi, and Muhammad Zafzaf.
Elisabetta Bartuli is an Italian academic specialized in contemporary Arabic literature as well as a prolific literary translator and editor. For her selections for LEILA, she says went back over modern classics that had been overlooked, ones that had “surprised me, and taught me something. I started with the books that had been windows onto the Arab world. Then I moved towards more contemporary books, and ones that make sense for the Italian market.”
She tries to avoid suggesting books that reinforce western stereotypes about the Arab world and focuses on literature “that allows you to enter cultural universes that are different from your own; that make you work on your collective imaginary. The surprise brought about by what’s unfamiliar creates wonderment and is important.”
Bartuli sources her books in many places, whether at book fairs in the Arab world, the cultural pages of Egyptian, Lebanese, or Moroccan newspapers, she follows literary prizes and talks with writers, publishers, and journalists, “because there’s never just one opinion. I also have tons of books that I haven’t yet read.”
She’s not sure if publishers in Italy, who mostly buy translations from English or French, are looking for literature from the Arab world; “you must explain to them that there are enormous possibilities, with good books that can be well translated. They simply don’t know much about Arab literature. It’s a common assumption that Arab literature doesn’t sell. But all literature that isn’t mainstream doesn’t sell much. It’s a prejudice that we need to work on.”
Bartuli says she would like to see Arab literature simply join the category of world literature. “Even if you have a title that talks about something very specific, if it’s a good book and is well translated, this specificity becomes universal.”