Meet the 2020 Mentees: Madeline Edwards

The ALTA Emerging Translator Mentorship Program is designed to facilitate and establish a close working relationship between an experienced translator and an emerging translator on a project selected by the emerging translator. The mentorship duration is nine months. The emerging translator is expected to choose a project that can be completed in this timeframe, and they will only be advised on that particular project. Congratulations to this year’s Arabic prose mentee, Madeline Edwards, who will be mentored by Kareem James Abu-Zeid:

Madeline EdwardsRaised in northern Virginia, Madeline was first exposed to Arabic literature when her high school English teacher assigned a short story by the late Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz. She was immediately hooked. She began studying Arabic in university, receiving a Critical Language Scholarship in 2013 to spend a summer in Amman, Jordan.

Following graduation, she moved back to Amman, where she took on a job as a reporter for the news site Syria Direct. Working in an Arabic-speaking newsroom with Syrian journalists, she quickly improved her language skills, gaining some semblance of a Syrian dialect along the way.

After a brief stint at English-language newspaper The Daily Star in Beirut, Madeline returned to Amman in 2018 to work as Syria Direct’s assistant editor. As part of her editorial role, she commissioned and wrote stories about everyday people and, of course, literature. One of her favorite pieces from Syria Direct was a story co-authored with a colleague about the changing “dialect” of one formerly besieged community outside Damascus as it came back under government control in 2018. Since capture of the formerly rebel-held enclave, residents who once spoke in terms of “revolution” and “rebels” changed their spoken vocabulary for fear of arrest by security forces.

Since leaving Syria Direct in 2019, Madeline has worked as a freelance journalist and occasional translator-for-hire. She now lives in Beirut, where she writes for The New Humanitarian, The National, Middle East Eye, Al-Monitor and Syria Untold. Her reporting focuses on the humanitarian impacts of war. She has written extensively in recent months on the targeting of hospitals and medical clinics in northwestern Idlib province. She is also interested in displaced communities and war crimes prosecution.

When she’s not interviewing Idlibi surgeons, cross-border people smugglers or dissident Syrian authors, Madeline makes a (so far moderately successful) effort to focus on her second passion: reading contemporary Arabic literature. Luckily, Beirut is a hub for Arabic-language publishing and has dozens of bookshops. She is trying not to spend all of her money in them.

For her translation project, Madeline chose A Green Bus Leaves Aleppo, a short novel by Syrian Kurdish writer Jan Dost. The novel speaks through extended flashbacks to tell the story of one elderly Syrian man preparing to leave his home city during the 2016 siege and evacuation of Aleppo. The title of the novel alludes to the now ubiquitous green buses of Syria, sent in by the government to remove remaining civilians and fighters from recaptured rebel-held territories after the dust of siege and bombardment settles.

Madeline was struck by how the novel explored the idea of displacement as violence, mirroring author Dost’s own life. Since 2000, Dost has lived in exile in Germany due to fear of political reprisals for his writing. There, he continues to write in both Arabic and Kurdish despite being far from his home city of Kobani.

Madeline is thrilled to take part in this year’s ALTA program, and to delve into a different kind of writing for her first serious literary project. She is excited to work with mentor Kareem James Abu-Zeid, and learn the principles of literary translation–which, looking back, she regrets not having the chance to study in university.

This mentorship is being offered by ALTA in partnership with the A. M. Qattan Foundation.

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