Moroccan Writers Abdelaziz Errachidi and Mbarek Sryfi at VCCA

Moroccan writers Abdelaziz (“Aziz”) Errachidi and Mbarek Sryfi are currently in residence at VCCA working primarily on the translation of Aziz’s second novel, The Kitchen of Love, which he finished when he was at VCCA in 2011. “I was in a bad situation last time I was here. So I didn’t move; I just stuck at my table and worked for 20 days and I finished the novel and sent it to my editor from Virginia.” (Aziz came to VCCA in 2011 as part of Beirut 39, a collaborative project between, Beirut UNESCO's World Book Capital 2009 celebrations, Banipal magazine and the British Council among others that identified 39 of the most promising Arab writers under the age of 39.) Unfortunately, during that visit Aziz was seriously injured in a car accident near Charlottesville. He was in the ICU for days and then in the hospital for weeks, returning to VCCA to complete his residency in a back brace. Despite this, he remained in a great mood the entire time and today, brushes off the incident.)

Aziz grew up near the Sahara Desert in Zagora, Morocco, and now lives in Agadir, while Mbarek, a poet, short story writer and lecturer in Arabic at the University of Pennsylvania, lives in this country.

Being an author and a poet makes Mbarek particularly well suited for the responsibility of capturing the distinctive language that marks an author’s voice. As Mbarek explains, “You’re not just making photocopies, you’re really writing a new version of what you’re translating. I call it ‘transforming’ because it’s not just taking it from one language to another language.”

Translation is very much a collaboration between the two writers. “It’s important for me to know the person whose work I’m translating,” Mbarek says. “As a Moroccan, I also have to get it right. An American could possibly get away with mistakes of nuance because nobody’s going to question him. With me, I’m in the spotlight. I also bear another responsibility because I want Moroccan literature to come to America. And, I want it to come the right way.”

Mbarek’s endeavor is made all the more challenging because Arabic is such a complex language. “There’s a lot of talking, a lot of sentences and synonyms. By contrast, English is very straightforward. I have to make sure I am being true to the author’s intention while building an accurate image in English”

“I write with my eyes,” says Aziz whose inspiration is the desert. “All my short stories and novels are about the desert. There aren’t a lot of other Moroccan writers who focus on this.” Writers in the Arab world have a good status. “That’s historically that’s been the case, says Mbarek. “Arabs have been writers since the beginning of history.”

With that long established history and the welcome escape from day to day travails their work provides, it’s no wonder writers have a powerful voice in the Arab world. And, according to Aziz and Mbarek, if you are a bestselling author of literature, your words have much more import, than say, that of a politician.

While on call for Mbarek, Aziz is also working on his third novel, which, inspired by the events of the past three or four years, is a story about love and revolution in the Arab world.

Mbarek has translated poetry and fiction from French and Arabic. He has published in CELAAN, Metamorphoses, World Literature Today, mead magazine and is currently a contributor to Banipal. Two of his publications were published with Syracuse University Press in Fall 2014, Monarch of the Square, an anthology of short stories by Muhammad Zafzaf and Arabs and the Art of Storytelling by Kilito. Two other manuscripts are under consideration: The Blueness of the Evening, a collection of poems by Hassan Najmi with Texas University Press and The Elusive Fox a novel by Muhammad Zafzaf with Syracuse University Press.

In addition to The Kitchen of Love, (2013), Aziz has published: Alley of Death (2006) Childhood of a Frog (2005), Nomads on the Cliff (2006), Sands of Pain (2007) and Foreigners at my Table (2009). He has received many awards, Union of Moroccan Writers’ Prize for Childhood of a Frog (2005), “Acharka” Arabic Prize in the Emirates for Nomads on the Cliff (2006), Sakyat Essaw Prize for his short story, “The Basket of Colors” (2006) and the Ibn batouta prize for “Sinbad of Sahara” (2014).

The Moroccan Ministry of Culture sponsored Aziz’s travel to the United States for this fellowship.


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