PMA assistant professor wins fellowship from NEA

Rebekah Maggor, assistant professor in the Department of Performing and Media Arts, has won a Literature Fellowship in Translation from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Rebekah Maggor

Maggor is one of 24 Literature in Translation fellows for fiscal year 2020. In total, the NEA will award $300,000 in grants to support the new translation of poetry, prose and drama from 19 countries into English.

Her fellowship was awarded for a collaborative project with Mas’ud Hamdan, professor of Arabic literature at the University of Haifa, Israel. The award supports translation work for “New Plays from Palestine: Theatre Between Home and Exile,” a collection to be published by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center in partnership with Theatre Communications Group.

The collection brings together new drama by Palestinian writers from the West Bank, Israel, Syria and the United States – including Hamdan, Rama Haydar and Bashar Murkus, who have presented their work at Cornell.

“These plays offer grassroots perspectives on war, exile, occupation and displacement, and push the boundaries of dramatic form,” said Maggor, who will co-edit the collection with Hamdan and Marvin Carlson ’61, a theater professor at City University of New York.

“We’re delighted to receive this award,” Maggor said. “It will give us the time we need to prepare our translations for publication. Most importantly, it will draw much deserved attention to these excellent playwrights.”

Maggor, who joined the Cornell faculty in 2016, said the award comes at a vital moment in her career.

“I have dedicated much time and effort to fostering awareness around the creativity and complexity involved in dramatic translation and the crucial role it plays in the practice and research of theatre, and cultural circulation more broadly,” she said. “As the NEA makes clear through this prestigious fellowship, the translation of literature is an imaginative and intellectual endeavor and I am most grateful for the legitimacy this award lends to my work.”

Maggor said there many misconceptions around translation.

“Some people assume that translation is simply a substitution of linguistic equivalents – a technical chore that any bilingual person, or even a computer program, can accomplish,” she said. “But translators travel far beyond the words on a page to a nexus of research and creative writing. We study the historical context, the political currents, and the artistic influences that flowed into a text and then … reconstruct them in another language and culture.”

Maggor’s research focuses on contemporary Arabic drama from Egypt, Palestine and Syria. She also co-edited “Tahrir Tales: Plays from the Egyptian Revolution,” published by Seagull Books. Recently, Maggor adapted and directed the political satire “Hamlet Wakes Up Late” by Syrian playwright Mamduh Adwan.

Since 1981, the NEA has awarded 504 fellowships to 445 literary translators, with translations representing 70 languages and 86 countries.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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