Banipal magazine is the ever-open window on today’s Arab literary scene. Since the first issue, of three per year, the magazine has brought Arab writers into the global arena through English translation.
Banipal is an independent literary magazine, founded in 1998 by Margaret Obank and Iraqi author Samuel Shimon, publishing contemporary authors and poets from all over the Arab world in English translation, presenting both established and emerging writers, most for the first time, through poems, short stories or excerpts of novels, and also including author interviews, profiles and book reviews All are well illustrated with author photographs and book covers, and each of the later issues is themed. Some issues have focused on particular countries for particular reasons, such as countries whose literatures are hardly known in the West (and sometimes even within the Arab world) but where there are important emerging or well-known voices within the country that need to be heard more widely.
From the first issue, the three cornerstones of Banipal have been that Arab literature is an essential part of world culture and human civilisation; that the essential dialogue between different cultures needs to be continually deepened; and that the joy and enlightenment to be gained from reading beautiful poetry and imaginative writing is an integral part of human existence. These three points have guided Banipal’s translation and promotion of contemporary Arab literature.
Literary translation has such an inspirational power to develop dialogue and interaction between cultures; the moment a reader starts to read a translation intercultural dialogue begins. Literary translators are interpreters of human values – and the true peacemakers. The magazine is indebted to the many professors of Arabic literature, to their students, and to the ever-growing ranks of Arabic to English literary translators, at various stages in their careers, who have contributed, and continue to contribute, to Banipal’s pages.
Banipal is a magazine for lovers of literature, especially world literature; it encourages a wider readership of Arab writers and poets for their own sake, for both the particularity and the universality of their voices, for their diversity and vibrancy, enabling fruitful discourse to develop, that will lead to further exchange, mutual respect, new writings, deeper understanding, and Arab literature taking its rightful place in the canon of world literature.
In 2011 a GUEST LITERATURE section was started featuring literature from a non-Arab country in order to extend intercultural dialogue into a trialogue, with English as a go-between. Among the countries featured have been The Netherlands, Flanders, Slovenia, South Korea and Germany. Guest writers have been from Vietnam, Romania, France, the UK and USA. The magazine has also featured Arab authors writing in other languages, such as Catalan, Dutch, German, English and French.
Free from cultural stereotypes and making a unique contribution to world literature and intercultural dialogue, Banipal is a vital initiator of Arab literature in translation, highly regarded by university departments teaching Arabic literature, by translators both experienced and beginners, by publishers, by international literary organisations, and above all by Arab authors themselves. It has also become a crucial middleman, go-between, linking the works of Arab authors with organisations and publishers and readers in the West.
The magazine’s size has changed three times: Banipals 1 to 18 (1998 to 2003) were A4 size, averaging 80 pages; issues 19 to 33 (2004 to 2008) were smaller with double the number of pages, that is 170 x 245mm and 160 pages; and from issue 34 (2009 onwards) the size is reduced again and number of pages increased, to a paperback size of 152 x 229 mm and 224 pages.
“The best contemporary Arabic magazine . . . nothing is lost in translation” – Anton Shammas
“Not merely a bridge between two cultures but . . . a laboratory that illuminates the styles of modern Arabic writings” – Adonis
“The encyclopedia of Arabic literature that is amassed in Banipal is a staggering accomplishment” – Fady Joudah
“Its past issues constitute an incomparable archive” – Robert Irwin