The Naguib Mahfouz Era
In the 1980s, the press began to innovate, showing a growing interest in Arabic literature in translation, as it courted one of the best known Arabic authors at the time, Naguib Mahfouz. “I went to see Naguib Mahfouz regularly with a colleague of mine,” recalled Mark Linz, director of AUC Press. “We had already published six of his works, and we hoped to prepare a comprehensive program with him to publish all of his works over time.”
In 1985, the press signed an agreement to be the primary publisher for all of Mahfouz’s works in English and to be his worldwide agent for all of his translation rights.
A few years later, in 1988, when Mahfouz became the first writer in Arabic to win the Nobel Prize in literature, nine of his books were available in AUC Press Englishlanguage translations. As Mahfouz wrote after receiving the Nobel Prize, “It was through the translation of these novels into English . . . that other publishers became aware of them and requested their translation into other foreign languages, and I believe that these translations were among the foremost reasons for my being awarded the Nobel Prize.” To date, the press has translated and published 38 of Mahfouz’s 40 books and has licensed more than 500 foreign-language editions of his works in 40 languages.
Through the critical acclaim and commercial success of Mahfouz, the press has been able to scout other well-known Arabic writers from Egypt and the region, like Taha Hussein and Yusuf Idris, and nascent talents such as Hamdi Abu Golayyel, winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2008, and Mekkawi Said, shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and Saudi author Yousef Al-Mohaimeed.
The press has also launched the careers of some notable Arabic authors, like Alaa Al Aswany, who has now been translated into 26 languages and whose critically acclaimed debut novel, The Yacoubian Building, published by the press in 2004, has sold 1 million copies worldwide. “He burst onto the world literary stage in a way that has never happened before to an Arabic author,” said Linz.
In the field of Arabic literature alone, one of the most expansive of its publishing programs, AUC Press now features more than 150 novels.
In line with its commitment to make Arabic literature and culture more accessible to Western readers, the press established in 1996 the annual Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, an independent award to recognize and promote talented writers of the Arab world, given to the best Arabic contemporary novel of that year. To date, recipients of the medal include nine Egyptians, two Palestinians, one Lebanese, one Algerian, one Moroccan, one Iraqi and one Syrian writer.
As AUC Press continued to expand over the decades, its facilities were at times stretched. Neil Hewison, associate director for editorial programs, recalled his experience as the only editor in the 1980s. “In those days, there was no computer technology, but we did have one computer in the press –– a pre-Mac Apple that had two floppy disk drives, which we used for keeping a general record of publications,” Hewison said.
Bigger is Better
The 1990s and beyond saw increased growth and prominence for the press. Technological advances allowed for drastic upgrades in equipment and promoted efficiency. The Internet had an increasingly dominating presence, which the press utilized to augment traditional bookselling services, launching its online shop in 2007. In addition, it strengthened partnerships with other university presses and publishing companies throughout the world, trained and expanded its workforce, and published a mix of general interest and scholarly works by Egyptian, Arab and Western authors. “We were doing so well in the 1990s that we decided to double our existing program from 20 to 40 and then to 80 books a year,” Linz noted.
By then, the press had expanded its publishing program in Islamic architecture and the arts, travel literature and guidebooks, history and biography, as well as archeology and ancient Egypt.Today, it publishes annually up to 100 books in eight subject areas including language studies, politics, economics, social issues and religious studies. In addition, through its bookstores and international distributors and agents, it distributes annually more than 500,000 books, and has licensed more than 500 foreign editions of Arabic literature in 40 languages. It now operates five full-service international bookstores throughout Cairo, including its new bookstore downtown, officially inaugurated earlier this year.
Cognizant of the challenges inherent in the publishing business, AUC Press staff members find satisfaction with each new published title. “Every book we publish is different, so even within every project, there are challenges and rewards,” Hewison said. “The big reward, though, is seeing a book off the press and getting the first copy of it.”
AUC Press Bestsellers 1960 – 2010
1. Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Deserts, by Otto Meinardus, 1961
2. Cairo: The Practical Guide, compiled by Aleya Serour, 1975
3. Khul-Khaal: Five Egyptian Women Tell Their Stories, by Nayra Atiya, 1984
4. Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt, by Robert Armour, 1986
5. The Cairo Trilogy, by Naguib Mahfouz, 1989
6. Egypt Yesterday and Today: Lithographs and Diaries by David Roberts, 1996
7. Whatever Happened to the Egyptians?, by Galal Amin, 1999
8. The Illustrated Guide to the Egyptian Museum, introduced by Zahi Hawass, 2001
9. Secrets from the Sand: My Search for Egypt’s Past, by Zahi Hawass, 2003
10. The Yacoubian Building, by Alaa Al Aswany, 2004
||Alaa Al Aswany, author of The Yacoubian Building
and Chicago, with international actor Omar Sharif
during AUC Press’s 50th anniversary celebration
AUC Press held a ceremony at AUC’s downtown Cultural Center in celebration of its 50th anniversary. The event was attended by a number of prominent figures including members of the university’s Board of Trustees; Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni; Margaret Scobey, U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Abdel Azim Wazir, Cairo governor. Other distinguished guests were Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, and award-winning Egyptian author Alaa Al Aswany.
During the event, internationally acclaimed Egyptian actor Omar Sharif read Games, a short story from Friendly Fire, by Alaa Al Aswany. This was followed by a recital by Egypt’s virtuoso pianist Ramzi Yassa, who played Chopin compositions.
Other events surrounding this golden jubilee included the inauguration of the new Margo Veillon Gallery of Modern Egyptian Art at AUC Downtown. Operated by AUC Press, the gallery preserves and exhibits the permanent collection of Margo Veillon, the prolific and independent artist who lived
and worked in Egypt, and showcases historic retrospectives
of 20th-century Egyptian art.