Joyce Zonana is a reader, writer, teacher, and now a fledgling literary translator. She has been drawn to translation since her childhood growing up in a French-and-Arabic-and English-speaking Middle Eastern immigrant family. Her father had worked as an interpreter from French to Arabic in the Mixed Courts in Cairo; in the U.S., he occasionally took on small translation jobs, and she remembers with pleasure the excitement of sitting beside him before a stack of dictionaries piled on the kitchen table, trying to help as he puzzled out how to put American advertising slogans into colloquial Arabic.
Her engagement with Henri Bosco’s Malicroix, the 1948 French novel she is translating into English, began more than forty years ago, when she first read Gaston Bachelard’s evocative The Poetics of Space, which quoted extensively from it (and other novels by Bosco). Set in the mid-nineteenth century and hailed by Bachelard as a “vast prose-poem,” Malicroix explores the psyche of a sheltered young man who must live alone for three months in a small house he has inherited on an isolated island in the Camargue. Always interested in psychological quest narratives and in writing about nature, Joyce was drawn to the novel and immediately began translating it—only to put the project aside when, in 1977, she began her Ph.D. studies in English literature at the University of Pennsylvania.
Today, she is thrilled to have the support of an ALTA Emerging Translator Mentorship as she returns to this book—and to the entire field of translation—that has always fascinated her. Last fall, thanks to a PSC-CUNY grant from the City University of New York, she traveled to the Camargue to experience first-hand the haunting landscape so powerfully described by Bosco, and she also spent several very happy days consulting the Fonds de Documentation Henri Bosco housed at the University of Nice. Her interest in Bosco’s writing has grown, and, once she has completed her translation of Malicroix, she hopes to tackle some of Bosco’s other work, including his nonfiction essays about North Africa.
Joyce is currently a Professor in the English Department at Borough of Manhattan Community College, where she has taught since 2006. Before that, she was for fifteen years on the faculty of the University of New Orleans, where for a time she was also Director of Women’s Studies. In 2008, she published a memoir, Dream Homes: From Cairo to Katrina, An Exile’s Journey (Feminist Press), recounting her experiences growing up Egyptian and Jewish and female in the United States. Her scholarship has focused on Victorian literature, feminist theory, postcolonial literature, and Sephardic literature, and she has published articles in such journals as Signs, Meridians, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, Victorian Poetry, and The Hudson Review.
Joyce lives in Brooklyn with two orange tabby cats who joined her in her hurried evacuation from New Orleans in response to Hurricane Katrina. She enjoys practicing and teaching hatha yoga.