Monday February 4, 2019 By: Dina Al Mahdy
Despite facing great challenges, contemporary Arabic children’s literature has witnessed remarkable developments lately, both in quality of text, illustrations and breadth of subject matter.
One of those driving forces behind this development is Yasmine Motway, a post-doctoral fellow at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, HUSSLab at the American University in Cairo. Her relentless efforts in this field, have had a great impact on contemporary Arabic children’s literature.
As part of her endeavors to take more Arabic children’s literature abroad, Yasmine organized the first Outreach Symposium: New Directions in Egyptian Children’s Literature at the American University in Cairo. The Outreach Symposium gathered authors, publishers, illustrators, educators, critics, translators, academics and interested members of the general public under one roof, to meet and talk about Arabic children’s literature. The event showcased new grassroots initiatives in the field of children’s literature. It also tackled issues such as qualities of books in demand for translation, to the challenges, channels and venues through which books travel till a translation appears on the shelf and stays there for several runs. With the support of the Andrew W. Mellon grant, Yasmine is currently working on a manuscript on ideology in contemporary Egyptian children’s books
WOE: As a woman pursuing her career and a working mother, what are/were the major obstacles and challenges that you faced in your life and career?
YM: When you are done, the obstacles do not seem so bad and everything adds up to where you are at this moment in time. But I think I have the usual challenge of any urban person with a family: carving out time to do things that do not involve working, commuting, troubleshooting, and holding the fort. I don’t want to make it sound like it’s a breeze, because that is not true, it involves being open to asking for help and getting it. Even with help, it involves pushing through in spite of weariness. What does help in this regard is avoiding distractions, trying to stay healthy, and supporting others and getting support when you need it.
WOE: Being an educator, translator, and editor for children’s literature, can you tell us more about the challenges, channels and venues through which Arabic children’s books travel till a translation appears on the shelf? And how can we face those challenges?
YM: I think that with any translation, there needs to be a strong reason for the book to be chosen, probably much more than the reasons the book was published in the first place. It must have value and a potential audience in the destination culture it is being translated into. It also needs to come to the attention of a foreign publisher in a way that clearly and succinctly highlights why the publisher ‘needs’ to publish it. Once a foreign publisher buys the rights to a book, translation begins and a lot of decisions are made at this stage until the book sees the light. I think that there is a lot that can be done to take more Arabic children’s literature abroad, but for the time being, I care much more about promoting the reading of great Arabic children’s books inthe Arab world. I think my part in this is often to work with publishers, writers, and illustrators to improve the quality of the books coming out, and through critical and popular writing to ensure that these books remain on the radar. I believe in drowning out mediocre books that often turn children away from reading altogether, by making more and more excellent books available and making sure the reader knows about them.
WOE: As a working mother, how did you raise your children? Have they understood the role you played in the cultural arena? How has that affected their perspective on life?
YM: My children know what I do, and see evidence of it all over the house, so that is clear! I think that the critical way I read books, films, series, art, and the way I share my perspectives on various cultural artifacts, impacts my children in the same way it impacts most of my students; both groups complain about being unable to just kick back and uncritically receive a book or a film or an episode anymore, and I always laugh and tell them “if that is true, then my work here is done!”
WOE: Reflecting on how your parents raised you, what ideologies do you wish to instill in girls in Egypt to become future leaders in society?
YM: I think my parents raised me to do things with as much integrity, pleasure and creativity as I possibly could, and never to choose a track that led to the highest-powered career even if I could, because success was about balance and making decisions one could live with. They also taught me to say no. Looking back, I think this was specific advice for a daughter who was potentially quite driven, not general advice they were giving out to everyone!
I learnt from them not to give blanket advice because there is no shoe that fits everyone, so I think the challenge is always to pause for breath, then to look into the face of the small person asking for advice and to listen carefully to what she is telling you, and then to offer suggestions to suit her individual situation.
WOE: Having contributed to promoting an excellent image of inspiring remarkable Egyptian women and changemakers, what advice do you wish to pass on to women of Egypt all over the world?
YM: I am in awe of most Egyptian women that I meet; their ability to manage and thrive and find joy in the most dire circumstances is really incredible. I would never presume to give these extraordinary women advice, but I say: keep sisterhood alive, support your fellow woman, build her up, we shine together.
WOE: What are your future plans on both the professional and personal levels?
YM: When I was about ten years old, I read somewhere that royalty often knew where they were scheduled to be doing up to two years ahead and I was horrified at how oppressive this seemed; how did they know what they or the world would be like in two years? So, I don’t deliberately make plans, rather they organically unfold from what I am already doing without too much interference.
Yasmine Motawy is a senior instructor in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at The American University in Cairo. She holds a BA and MA in comparative literature from The American University in Cairo and a PhD (Cairo University 2012) in comparative literature with a dissertation on ideology in contemporary Egyptian and British children’s literature.
Motawy is an educator, translator, reviewer, scholar and editor for children’s literature. Her doctoral and post-doctoral research has been on ideology and discourse in Arab children’s media and literature.
Motawy has been involved in the promotion of reading in the Arab world and the revival of the Egyptian section of IBBY in 2012 and is associate editor of the Routledge Companion to International Children’s Literature since 2008 until present, and has served on the 2016 and 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award Jury. Motawy worked in the corporate world and trained for three years to be a member of the Lakeland College of Homeopathy.Yasmine Motawy is also a judging member at The 2017 Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature.
She received many prestigious awards such as Tewfick Doss Award for the best thesis, The American University in Cairo, 2003; and Writing Center Fellowship, Department of English and Comparative Literature, 2001-2003. She has 8 books review, 3 online articles, 2 book chapters and 4 peer-reviewed articles. She has 15 Arabic to English book translations, and 6 English to Arabic book translations.
For more information about Yasmine Motawy, please visit the link here
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