'Velvet' (Hoopoe Fiction) Wins Prestigious Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

Velvet Banipal 2020 Winner

The 2020 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation was awarded to Kay Heikkinen for her translation of the novel Velvet by Huzama Habayeb, published by Hoopoe Fiction, an Imprint of AUC Press. Following the shortlist of five titles that was announced on November 24 2020, the judges were unanimous in naming Kay Heikkinen as the winner of the £3,000 prize, to be awarded by the Society of Authors on February 11 2021.

The judges in this fifteenth year of the prize are Paul Starkey, emeritus professor of Arabic at the University of Durham; Justine Jordan, fiction editor at The Guardian; Nii Ayikwei Parkes, writer, publisher and broadcaster; and Omar Al-Qattan, film director and philanthropist.

The Judges’ Report

“Kay Heikkinen deserves the highest commendation for her sensitive translation of Huzama Habayeb’s award-winning Arabic novel Mukhmal, published in 2016. The novel is an intense and vivid story of one woman’s life in a Palestinian refugee camp, told with sensitivity to the sensuous but tragic world of its heroine but above all to her disturbing and almost heroic defiance of reality. The coarseness of Hawwa’s everyday life stands in stark contrast to the softness of the material around which much of her world revolves. On one level, the novel is a study of the claustrophobia of poverty and oppression, of daily lives shorn of all tenderness and of the stranglehold of family and patriarchy. Throughout it all, however, there remain dreams of individual fulfillment and the possibility of love and escape, turning the novel into a celebration of the triumph of the imagination over the mundane.

“Hawwa’s story is told in a rich, carefully crafted Arabic that represents a significant challenge for any translator, requiring stamina and resilience as well as accuracy and precision. The judges were impressed by the way in which Kay Heikkinen’s translation has succeeded in conveying not only the sense but also the mood and emotion of the original, bringing to life a narrative that vividly portrays the repressive life of ordinary Palestinian women while scrupulously avoiding any hint of political platitude. Her translation faithfully adheres to the elegance of the original without losing the deeply tragic tenor of its events.

“The judges were impressed by the quality of several other shortlisted translations, including two shorter works, but after extensive discussion reached the decision to award the prize to Kay Heikkinen for a translation that they considered to be of outstanding quality and which deserves to enjoy the same success in English as it has already done in Arabic, through the award of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2017.


Nadine El Hadi, Senior Commissioning Editor of Hoopoe Fiction

“Kay Heikkinen is an incredibly accomplished and talented translator and it is always a pleasure and a privilege to work with her at Hoopoe. Her exquisite translation of Huzama Habayeb's Velvet has rendered this powerful and complex novel into eloquent, flowing English, capturing the passion and pain, the nuance and the many layers of the original. We are delighted that she has been given this much-deserved recognition.”