Villanova’s Barbara Romaine Receives NEA Literature Translation Fellowship

Romaine teaches in the Arabic Studies Program in the University’s Institute for Global Interdisciplinary Studies

Fellowship will support the translation into English of the historical novel A Cloudy Day on the Western Shore by Egyptian writer Mohamed al-Mansi Qandil

Romaine teaches in the Arabic Studies Program in the University’s Institute for Global Interdisciplinary Studies

VILLANOVA, Pa. – The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has announced that Barbara Romaine, a faculty member in Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has been selected as one of 20 recipients of the NEA Literature Translation Fellowship for 2015. In total, the NEA plans to distribute $300,000 in this round to support the new translation of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry from 12 different languages into English.

Romaine, who teaches in the Arabic Studies Program in Villanova’s Institute for Global Interdisciplinary Studies, will translate into English the historical novel by Egyptian writer Mohamed al-Mansi Qandil entitled, A Cloudy Day on the Western Shore.

“Mohamed Qandil’s fiction speaks eloquently to contemporary and historical reality in the Arab world,” said Romaine. “For reasons that are self-evident, the collision of East and West is a much-visited topic in modern Arabic literature and done well, it is not a crude study in irreconcilable oppositions, but is nuanced and provocative.” 

“Among the most resonant themes in Qandil’s decades’ worth of literary work is that of tyranny, whether Arab-against-Arab, or as a function of foreign imperialism,” continued Romaine. “The author brings to life his depictions of corruption and cruelty in high places by refracting them through the experiences of not only historical luminaries, but also ordinary people, his central characters. A Cloudy Day on the Western Shore explores this topic from a number of angles. Not least of all, it addresses the question of whether Egypt was sold down the river to European and American treasure-seekers for the price of a pharaoh’s gold, and how this fits in with the broader issues of foreign intervention into Egypt’s affairs over the course of more than a century, in the service of Western interests rather than Egypt’s own welfare.” 

Romaine thinks of herself as an “accidental Arabist.” Having started out as a classicist, she found herself in Egypt on a work-related assignment in 1987, and within two months of her return to the U.S., she had enrolled in her first Arabic language class.  Five years later she went back to Egypt on fellowship to study Arabic at the American University in Cairo, and while there began her first full-length translation project, Bahaa’ Taher’s novel Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery, which was published in 1996. Romaine began teaching Arabic in the early 1990s, and has taught at institutions from Virginia to Vermont. In 2007, she held an NEA fellowship for the translation of Radwa Ashour’s semi-autobiographical novel Specters, and that translation, published in 2011, subsequently placed second in the Saif Ghobash-Banipal international competition. 

Romaine feels her upcoming translation of A Cloudy Day on the Western Shore to English is a timely one. “A Cloudy Day on the Western Shore is not a wholesale indictment of the West or even of Western imperialism, but neither does it avoid self-criticism,” Romaine added. “Qandil is in good company with the likes of Ghassan Kanafani, Abdelrahman Munif, Tayeb Salih, and many others in reflecting upon how the Arabs might at times have played their hand to better advantage: a question that manifested itself last year in the reactions to Mohamed Morsi’s ouster and the subsequent military crackdown that convulsed Egypt’s fledgling democracy and has left its fate open to question even now.”

"The NEA's long history of supporting literary translation is one of the most important ways we can broaden our nation's perspectives while also making the work of these talented writers and translators more available," said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. "This recommended award will go a long way in fostering a sense of empathy and understanding for how people from different countries and cultures connect with each other and live their lives."

Since 1981, the NEA has supported literary translators through fellowships. Including the most current recipients, the NEA has awarded 364 translators 412 fellowships to translate literature from 66 languages originating in 86 countries. For the complete list of FY 2015 NEA Literature Translation Fellows, visit the NEA's website at arts.gov.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.

The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $5 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector. To join the discussion on how art works, visit the NEA at arts.gov.