Ashe County translator receives Banipal prize

Wil Petty

January 28, 2014

Applachian State University professor and Todd resident William Hutchins received the Saif Ghobash Banipal prize for his translation of Yemeni author Wajdi al-Ahdal’s “A Land Without Jasmine.”

The Banipal prize is an annual award for the best translation in the Arabic language that is available in the United Kingdom, and this year is the first time they are sharing the award between two translators.

The other recipient was Jonathan Wright, of the United Kingdom, for his translation of “Azazeel” by Egyptian writer Youssef Ziedan.

The book Hutchins translated is about a woman from Yemen who attends college and disappears. Each chapter of the book is told by a different person involved in her life, including the police officers who investigate her disappearance.

“I was asked to translate one chapter of it for an Arabic literature journal and I really liked it,” Hutchins said. “So I corresponded by email with the author so the guy who was publishing could translate it.”

Hutchins said one of the things about translating the novel that was interesting was there were parts that were initially ommitted by the Yemeni government. Originally Hutchins thought it was a ploy by the author showing confusion by the characters involved.

“There were sections of the novel that he had not been allowed to publish in Yemen, so I put those back in,” he said.

Part of Hutchins’ job was to try and keep the translation as accurate to the original novel as possible. The translated version would be published by Garnet Publishing, based in the U.K.

“It’s just trying to recreate the experience,” he said.

Hutchins has a long history learning the Arabic language, beginning when taught in Lebanon following graduating from Yale University.

“While I was there, just to get around I needed to learn about 100 words,” he said. “They set up a little class for me and there were two other new Americans and we learned just one letter of the alphabet a week.”

From there, Hutchins would develop his knowledge of Arabic while getting a degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago. Next, he would spend time teaching Arabic in other nations including Ghana.

Now, he is a professor of philosophy and religion at ASU. Huthcins has resided in Ashe and Watauga counties since working for the University.

Hutchins said there is a difference in dialects within the Arabic language, but he would rely on different dictionaires to aid him while editing the novel.

“This particular author for the Yemeni novel, there was stuff like slang for ‘Toyota Land Cruiser’ and stuff that there’s no way that I could translate in a dictionary so I just asked him,” Hutchins said.

In February, Hutchins will travel to London to receive the award and take part in panel discussions about his work translating the Arabic language. For one portion, Hutchins will read for three minutes a portion of his translated work.

Wil Petty may be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @wilpetty