Persa Koumoutsi is a writer, literary translator, and essayist and has translated from Arabic 14 novels by Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz as well as many works by other distinguished Egyptian and Arab writers and poets. Her bibliography also includes the first Anthology of Contemporary Arabic Poetry in Greek, for which she received the Award of the Hellenic Society of Literary Translators in 2017. Since 2020 she has directed the Centre of Greek and Arabic Literature and Culture, which aims to strengthen the cultural ties between Greece and the Arab world.
In her time as a translator from Arabic to Greek for over 30 years, LEILA jury member Persa Koumoutsi has met a great number of authors at meetings, conferences, and through her reading. Some have since passed away, but she says the younger generation gets in touch and sends her books. She follows authors on social media but especially reads the literary pages of a wide variety of Arabic newspapers and magazines to source new authors.
With Greek publishers, she says, “We have gone through many phases. In the beginning they were interested in best known writers like [Naguib] Mahfouz or a few Palestinians. Publishers are now interested in whatever is good, some are very knowledgeable, and I’m trying through the Centre of Greek and Arabic Literature and Culture, to inform them and to let them know about new voices, especially poetry. Even if the market is narrow for poetry, with a small readership, it is a fanatic one.”
In her choices for LEILA, “I am interested in all genres especially women’s writing. We are giving chances to people who have less visibility. I love Egypt and it’s my number one country but because I’ve been following the development of literature in the region, I have detected very good voices from Bahrain, from Kuwait, from Oman, from places that weren’t traditionally known in the past. The Emirates and Saudi Arabia are producing very good literature. Arabic literature is a vast, very rich and unexplored area, and new voices are coming up every day in fiction. Women’s voices have become stronger and through my work I’m trying to throw light on these voices.”