Mohammad Khaïr-Eddine (left) and Haytham El-Wardany (right)

PEN America has announced its 2021 list of grant winners, and two African novels have received the PEN/Heim Translation Grant: Katharine Halls’s translation from Arabic of Things That Can’t Be Fixed by Egyptian author Haytham El-Wardany, and Jake Syersak’s translation from French of I, Caustic by Moroccan author Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine.

The PEN/Heim Translation Grant “promotes the publication and reception of translated world literature into English.” Halls and Syersak will each receive $3,575 to support the completion of the translations.

Halls and Syersak are two of ten winners selected from 348 entries. This year’s winners translated excerpts of novels from Arabic, French, Portuguese, Indonesian, Chinese, Serbian, Nepali, Bulgarian, Icelandic, and Hindi into English.

Read what the judges had to say about the winning African novels and their translations below!

Things That Can’t Be Fixed by Haytham El-Wardany, translated by Katharine Halls

Katharine Halls offers a nimble translation of Haytham El-Wardany’s unsettling, off-kilter stories. These eight stories leave the reader straddling fault lines in realities that at first glance had seemed mundane. At once absurd and menacing, El-Wardany’s stories deftly capture the sense of profound disorientation when unexpected shifts in life, both large and small, completely upend surroundings we have taken for granted. Halls’s taut and supple translation elegantly navigates the stories’ sly maneuvers.

I, Caustic by Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine, translated by Jake Syersak

Moroccan writer Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s exuberant revolutionary French-language text I, Caustic finds new life in Jake Syersak’s breathless translation. This multigenre avant-garde work, which alternates between poetry, drama, fiction, memoir, manifesto, and reportage, is a searing indictment of King Hassan II’s rule over Morocco. Khaïr-Eddine, a writer of Amazigh descent and one of the Maghreb’s best-known literary figures, first published this work in 1970, less than a decade into Hassan II’s brutal 38-year reign. Written in a Surrealist-inspired writing style that is, at the same time, deeply indebted to the Négritude literary movement, I, Caustic is a powerful anti-authoritarian text that continues to resonate in the present global political moment. Syersak’s masterful translation dexterously recreates the contours and sharp edges of this stunning work.

Congratulations to the 2021 PEN/Heim Translation Grant Winners!