The Library of Arabic Literature (LAL) was founded with high ambition: to make the treasures of pre-modern Arabic writing accessible to the world's English speakers through high-quality parallel-text editions. In its first three years, the LAL has published nine volumes — on literature, law, religion, biography, and mysticism — and more are in production.
The project's General Editor is Philip F. Kennedy, an associate professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and Comparative Literature at NYU Abu Dhabi. He works with seven other scholarly translators, plus a 27-member international advisory board, to ensure meticulous translation and production. The project, in partnership with NYU Press, is supported by a grant from the NYUAD Institute.
As more books are published, the breadth of the Library will expand, said Kennedy, who is well known in Abu Dhabi from his time as faculty director of the Institute.
"Though eclecticism was not a goal in itself, we decided that we might as well start with some works that have not been translated," he said. "We did, however, want to be comprehensive...and as we push forward, we will move closer to that end."
The LAL has already won high praise, including from the Times Literary Supplement, one of the world's top literary reviews. In the October 11, 2013 edition, Lydia Wilson wrote that "...the study and teaching of medieval Arabic thought and literary creativity will be revolutionized" by the LAL's work.
Collaborative translation is not new, nor unique to the Library. But few projects have been as self-consciously cooperative as this one.
"Collaboration is fundamental to the LAL identity," said Executive Editor James Montgomery, the Sir Thomas Adams' Professor of Arabic at Cambridge University. "We're trying to show the world that we can produce high-quality volumes with one name attached...but the translation in fact represents the work of a lot of different people," he noted.
Managing Editor Chip Rossetti explained the system for bringing a book along: "Every translator works with a board member who is dedicated to the whole process of producing an edition. The board member is there to act as a sounding board for the translator, and to ensure that the translation is up to the standards the editors are looking for."