Winner of 2020 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

Martin Reed

Martin Reed

Martin leads the SoA's Communications team. He oversees our strategic communications and campaign-based activities, including PR, social media, events and partnerships.
The 2020 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation is awarded to Kay Heikkinen for her translation of the novel Velvet by Huzama Habayeb, published by Hoopoe Fiction.

Following the shortlist of five titles announced on 24 November 2020, the judges are unanimous in naming Kay Heikkinen as the winner of the £3,000 prize, to be awarded by the Society of Authors on 11 February 2021 in an online ceremony for the 2020 Translation Prizes. More details to be announced.

The judges in this 15th year of the Prize comprised Emeritus Professor of Arabic, University of Durham Paul Starkey (Chair), fiction editor at The Guardian Justine Jordan, writer, publisher & broadcaster Nii Ayikwei Parkes, and film director & philanthropist Omar Al-Qattan.

The judges commented:

Hawwa’s story is told in a rich, carefully crafted Arabic that represents a significant challenge for any translator, requiring stamina and resilience as well as accuracy and precision. The judges were impressed by the way in which Kay Heikkinen’s translation has succeeded in conveying not only the sense but also the mood and emotion of the original, bringing to life a narrative that vividly portrays the repressive life of ordinary Palestinian women while scrupulously avoiding any hint of political platitude. Her translation faithfully adheres to the elegance of the original without losing the deeply tragic tenor of its events.

Translator Kay Heikkinen reacted to news of her win:

I am overwhelmed! I cannot begin to thank you as I would like to. Nor can I begin to thank Huzama Habayeb as she deserves, both for writing this beautiful book and for her unfailing and unstinting support throughout the translation process. I am delighted at the recognition of her accomplishment in writing such a beautiful human story of a courageous woman, who retains a capacity to be light-hearted in the face of crushing circumstances, and of her accomplishment in writing a new kind of Palestinian story, one that engages with politics only very indirectly. I’m grateful also to all those at Hoopoe who championed this project, as well as to the Banipal committee – more grateful than I can say. Thank you all.

Kay Heikkinen is a translator and academic who holds a PhD from Harvard University and is currently Ibn Rushd Lecturer of Arabic at the University of Chicago. Among other books, she has translated Naguib Mahfouz’s In the Time of Love and Radwa Ashour’s The Woman From Tantoura.

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