Occupied Palestinian Territory: Salma Jayyusi

In my view there is no more demanding work that deserves our dedicated collaborative efforts at the present time than inter-cultural understanding.

— Salma Jayyusi

Born in 1927, Salma Khadra Jayyusi is a gifted poet, with a critically distinguished vision. Her contribution to shaping the Arab cultural landscape and its multi-disciplinary interface with the world spanned over 50 years and crossed geographical and linguistic boundaries. A Palestinian, she was one of the early innovators in the contemporary Arab literary movement that emerged after the occupation (Nakba) of Palestine in 1948, focusing on the tumult of Arab critical debates on literature and its interaction with society.

Salma Jayyusi’s scholarly venture took her on a long journey in life. On a visit to the US in 1980, she realized that the influence of Arab culture on Americans was far less than she had expected. Motivated by the belief that mutual understanding between nations can only be based on the promotion of reciprocal knowledge between cultures, and determined to bring the heritage of Arab and Islamic culture to a wider audience, she was inspired to found The Project for the Translation of Arabic (Prota). For two and a half decades, she dedicated herself to making that visionary project a success. Two significant dimensions of this endeavor stood out: Salma Jayyusi was constantly concerned with popularizing the superb achievements of profound literary figures in Arabic scholarship as well as the voices of writers who would easily have been overlooked, particularly young women poets and writers. Secondly, the project, like all visionary works, underwent a process of development and innovation, expanding beyond the boundaries of regional literature, especially with the addition of East/West Nexus to Prota in 1992. This is also a project for the dissemination of Arabic literature and Arab/Islamic culture and history. In this, Jayyusi's vision and accomplishments were to produce not only a frame for deeper knowledge and broad-mindedness between the Arab and the Anglophone world, but also within the Arab world itself. Jayyusi's work demanded courage and willingness to stand alone and surmount the obstacles that encounter those women who are keen on venturing into the public domain. She worked hard to persuade people from cross-sectional scholarly settings to share visions towards the development of the project. Salma's journey has assisted in building a cultural bridge between a multitude of voices and positions, while managing to communicate them to the world at large.

The Project for the Translation of Arabic (Prota)