Richard Jacquemond is an Associate Professor of Arabic, Professor of Modern Arabic Language and Literature at the University of Aix-Marseille and researcher at the Institute of Research and Studies on Arab and Muslim Worlds (Iremam, CNRS, Aix-en-Provence), where he is currently director. Jacquemond lived in Egypt where he directed the translation program of the French cultural mission from 1988 to 1995. He has translated more than 20 books from Arabic, almost all by Egyptian authors, including eight novels by Sonallah Ibrahim and, most recently, two books by Iman Mersal.
Besides being a professor of Arabic language and literature, Richard Jacquemond is a seasoned literary translator from Arabic to French. He says he learns about new books from exchanges with two or three colleagues in France, and sometimes at the European Association for Modern Arabic Literature (Euramal) conferences which take place every two years. “At each conference they invite one or two authors of contemporary Arabic literature, as well as scholars and young PhD students. It’s often a moment of discovery.”
After living in Egypt for more than 15 years where he had a more “immediate contact” with writers, now that he lives in France he has turned to social media, in particular Facebook for virtual exchanges. He also finds Goodreads useful as he says readers of Arabic are very active on it.
Because of his years in Egypt, Egyptian writers figure predominantly in his choices, “not by nationalism, but simply because it’s what I know,” he says. Jacquemond also reads Sudanese authors because their books were easily available in Egypt, and he follows recommendations from a Parisian colleague. “I try to find a balance between great fiction that remains unknown [in the West], going back to the 1980s and 90s, and more recent texts.”
Regarding European publishers, Jacquemond says they he thinks they have a variety of interests when it comes to Arabic literature, “but overall, the problem is that generalist publishers only have room for one book from time to time. So, the difficulty is to find an equilibrium between a book being a one-shot deal, and [French specialist publisher] Sindbad which publishes seven or eight books a year.”
Jacquemond would like to see more Arab authors being read because it’s literature, and not because they are specifically from an Arab country. “I’d like them to be read independently of their political dimension or whether they are men or women…”