A Life in Translation — with William Hutchins

A Life in Translation — with William Hutchins
The nobel prize certificate of Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz displayed at his museum in Cairo / November 7, 2019 / Khaled Desouki/ AFP via Getty Images
Some random friend-of-a-friend chastised me for studying Arabic because he said nothing’s ever been written in it. And that was just, you know, a challenge — so I said to myself, ‘I’m going to show you!’

William Maynard Hutchins is a professor emeritus at Appalachian State University and an award-winning translator of Arabic literature, most famous for his work on “The Cairo Trilogy” by Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz. In this podcast, he joins New Lines’ Kevin Blankinship to discuss his long and storied career.

He began studying Arabic by chance, he explains, after his training in French landed him a job teaching English in Lebanon. After being told that “nothing had ever been written in Arabic,” he decided he had to prove otherwise and embarked on his first translation project. It was on the strength of those early successes that he was asked to work on “The Cairo Trilogy,” which he worked on alongside editor Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Now 77 and retired from academia, he nevertheless continues to be a prolific translator. One of his most recent works was a translation of “Ibn Arabi’s Small Death,” a fictionalized confession of the 13th-century mystic Ibn Arabi by Saudi novelist Mohammed Hasan Alwan. But though it deals with issues from centuries past, William shows how they still resonate today.

Produced by Joshua Martin

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