I've always been fascinated by the differences in languages. As a result of their schooling in 1950s Cairo, my parents spoke four (English, Armenian, French, and Arabic), and since childhood I've been consciously aware that each one served a different purpose: Armenian for communicating with the family, Arabic or French to discuss things children shouldn't know, and English to engage with the public sphere. Growing up in Los Angeles as the son of immigrants meant carrying two worlds in my head at all times. My days were spent in English, communicating with friends and teachers and co-workers; my nights and weekends were in Armenian, speaking to family and attending festivities.
It is probably no surprise that I pursued a Master's in Literary Translation. It seemed to me the inevitable conclusion for a life immersed in both books and languages across the world. But the more I paid attention to which books were being published, the more I noticed a disarming discrepancy. All too often, when a work of fiction appears in English, whether in America or Britain, it inevitably comes from the same European languages—French, Spanish, or German. If there is any diversity at all, it falls onto other well-trodden and "safe" languages, such as Russian or Japanese. This has led to a complete lack of diversity of stories from other voices. In effect, there is a homogeneity between the texts, as they tend to deal with the same plots and tropes present in other Western literature. (Thankfully, this language limitation has been noticed by others as well: organizations such as The Poetry Translation Centre and Words Without Borders actively seek to bring fresh voices into English.)
Mo(a)t tries to break out of this repetitive cycle. In a global era where immigrants across the world are scrutinized for their ethnic backgrounds, this collection celebrates how we are no longer defined by where we are, but also by where we came from. It is a collection of translated short stories from authors exploring their imagination in relation to their environment. These stories are not centered around a theme, but a concept. Each author lives outside their birth country—by choice or exile—yet as writers, they’ve chosen to continue to express themselves in their mother tongue, rather than the language of their adopted countries.
This collection gathers writers of the Arab-African diaspora who originate from Libya, Eritrea, Sudan, Syria, and Mauritania, although many of them now live across Europe. These African authors have been largely excluded from the Arabic publishing world. By bringing their works into English, we hope to introduce a wider audience to their work, as well as give them broader exposure. Just as a painter relies on their palette to produce a picture, so too do authors rely on language to convey their message. What binds the stories of Mo(a)t together is the fact that they are transnational. The authors in this collection reveal the symbiotic relationship between ourselves and our communities, and the freedom to step beyond them: how movement and melting pots change our perception, resulting in diverse and complex identities.