In England: Banipal Prize Names Luke Leafgren Its Second-Time Winner

In News by Porter AndersonLeave a Comment

The 2023 cycle of the Banipal Prize has named Luke Leafgren of Harvard its winner for his translation of Najwa Barakat’s ‘Mister N.’

Translator Luke Leafgren speaks at an event in 2018 around his win of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for his work on Muhsin Al-Ramli’s ‘The President’s Gardens.’ His 2023-cycle win is for his translation of Najwa Barakat’s ‘Mister N.’ Image: Banipal Prize video

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Leafgren’s First Win of the Banipal Was in 2018
As is the custom of the London-based Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, the program has announced that Luke Leafgren is once again its winner, this time for his translation of Mister N by Najwa Barakat, published by England’s press called And Other Stories. The prize being announced this winter is the 2023 Banipal honor.

The Banipal program is one of the 11 translation awards administered by the Society of Authors, the United Kingdom’s trade union for writers. And while the latest round of those awards’ news is to be announced February 7 by the society, the Banipal translation prize program annually likes to get ahead of that event with its own announcement of its winner.

Leafgren is the winner this year for a second time, having been named the Banipal prizewinner in 2018 for his translation of Muhsin Al-Ramli’s The President’s Gardens. The Allston Burr Assistant Dean of Harvard College at Mather House, Leafgren has published seven translations of contemporary Arabic novels. And Other Stories published his latest such work, Shalash the Iraqi by Shalash, in May.

Leafgren has taught Arabic language not only at Harvard but also at Middlebury’s Summer Arabic School. His undergraduate degrees from Columbia and Oxford are in English and theology. His 2012 PhD from Harvard is in comparative literature.

If Leafgren’s name is ringing a bell beyond translation for you, it may be because he’s also the creator of the StandStand desk units, lightweight bamboo or birch lifts for laptops, desktops, and other equipment to make deskwork friendlier to those who prefer standing to sitting.

In a comment on the news of his win, Leafgren is quoted, saying, “Winning the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation in 2018 meant more to me than any other achievement in my life, and that special feeling is echoed now.

“This prize is also for Najwa Barakat, whose creativity is a gift to readers, and whose remarkable novel rewarded all the hours I spent in reading, drafting, revising, and editing since the day she sent me two sections of the manuscript in 2018.

“I’m happy to share this honor with Stefan Tobler and everyone at And Other Stories, and especially with editor Jeremy Davies, whose careful reading and creative suggestions improved my translation immensely. In addition to being a powerful work of literature, this book is a testament to the capacious history of Beirut, and to that great city’s resilience and promise through past and current tragedies.”

Lebanon-born Barakat, the book’s author, is a student of cinema and holds a theater degree from Beirut’s Fine Arts Institute. Based in Paris, she has hosted cultural programs produced by Radio France Internationale (RFI), the BBC, and Al Jazeera, and is the author of seven novels as well as being the Arabic translator of Albert Camus’s notebooks.

Her Mister N is described by prize organizers as “a dark tragicomic novel” about a former novelist who has returned to writing to exorcise disturbing memories of his past. “Time, place, and Mister N’s inner dialogue become ever more fragmented, and just like the damaged city around him, he cannot quite manage to put things back together.”

Jurors in this prize cycle were:

  • Translator from French Ros Schwartz (chair)
  • Tony Calderbank, translator, former teacher of Arabic and translation, and former British Council director in South Sudan, Bahrain and Libya,\
  • Sarah Enany, winner of the 2021 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize and assistant professor in English language and literature with Cairo University
  • Barbara Schwepke, founder, publisher and CEO of Gingko Library, and founder of Haus Publishing

The prize is wholly sponsored by Omar Saif Ghobash and his family in memory of the late Saif Ghobash, who was passionate about Arabic and world literature.


More from Publishing Perspectives on Arabic literature is here. More from us on the Banipal Prize is here, more on translation is here, and more on publishing and book awards is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter

Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

Leave a Comment