N.A Mansour’s guest for this episode of Knowledge and Its Producers is M. Lynx Qualey.
“We’re going to be talking about everything from translation to KDrama, to work-life balance to the idea of guilty pleasures. Qualey is founding editor of the ‘ArabLit’ website (www.arablit.org), which won a 2017 London Book Fair “Literary Translation Initiative” prize.
She also publishes the experimental ArabLit Quarterly magazine and is co-host of the Bulaq podcast. Her co-translation of the middle-grade novel Ghady and Rawan was published in August 2019 by University of Texas Press, and her translation Sonia Nimr’s Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands was published in 2020 by Interlink. She writes for a variety of popular publications.We’re going to start by talking about ArabLit Quarterly.”
Subscribe to ArabLit Quarterly
The Cats Issue of ArabLit Quarterly
Sonia Nimr’s Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands
My review of the translation of Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands
The Bulaq Podcast
Music: Blue Dot Sessions
Logo: Marwa Yasser Gadallah
[TRANSCRIPT] Knowledge and its Producers: Episode 3 – M. Lynx Qualey
N.A. Mansour 00:11
One of the central themes of this podcast is access and inclusivity. How are people making certain spaces more accessible? How are they applying their own creative spirit to do so? How are people removing barriers to entry? How are communities growing around culture and cultural heritage and asking for creative solutions? We’re looking for people to inspire you, but also we want to uplift the people who are doing that labor because it’s intellectual labor, it’s creative labor, and there’s a need to acknowledge it and acknowledge how it can manifest as expertise. Today, we’ll be looking at it through the perspective of literature, Arabic literature in particular. Welcome to Knowledge and its Producers, a limited series from the Maydan, produced by me, N.A. Mansour. In each episode, we’ll be talking to people who are at the forefront of knowledge production, typically away from the traditional educational power structures. We’ll be talking to people who curate, who edit, who run research centers, who write, and more. My field is Islamic studies and we’ll be talking to people who fit into the study of Islam and of the Muslim majority world, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be Muslim themselves or Arab or Turkish or Persian, it just means that we don’t have perfect terms for describing this big intersecting world. Not yet. The goal is to get a wide variety of people talking about different ways of accessing history, ideas, and more, to uplift the people we’re interviewing, and, again, to inspire you.
Our guest today is M. Lynx Qualey, the founding editor of the Arablit website, arablit.org, which won a 2017 London Book Fair “Literary Translation Initiative” prize. She also publishes the experimental Arablit Quarterly magazine and is co-host of the Bulaq podcast. Her co-translation of the middle grade novel, Ghady and Rawan, was published in August 2019 by University of Texas Press and her translation of Sonia Nimr’s Wonderous Journeys in Strange Lands was published in 2020 by Interlink. She writes for a variety of popular publications. We’re going to start by talking about Arablit Quarterly. We’re going to be talking about everything from translation to K dramas to work-life balance to the idea of guilty pleasures, so you’re in for a ride.
I haven’t yet gotten my physical issue of Arablit Quarterly, but I did see the digital one. This is for the issue of the CRIME. It’s amazing as usual. Congratulations.
Lynx Qualey 02:47
Thank you. Although I have relatively little to do with it, all credit goes to Hassan, our amazing art director who often has ideas for what the content should be and all the contributors and translators.
N.A. Mansour 03:02
It’s stunning and I know you guys have the CATS issue in the making, how’s that going?
Lynx Qualey 03:09
Yes. Well, it’s a little overwhelming sometimes because you want to feel a sense of accomplishment after you get out because we really put a lot into this CRIME issue. We were trying to look at crime from the 10th century through to the 13th. How were crime stories in the 1940s Egyptian magazines to contemporary crimes to different state crimes versus individual personal crime? It comes out and then the very next day it’s moving on to the next issue. One of the really frustrating things about the CATS issue is finding researchers who work on the relationship between people and cats over time in the region. I’ve really struggled to find good research about that.
N.A. Mansour 04:09
The history of animals, generally as a field, is something that hasn’t really been, it’s not something that’s really been probed. I saw this recommended to you on Twitter, Alan Mikhail’s The Animal in Ottoman Egypt, which I think you noted that it doesn’t have much about cats, but because animals cannot document their own history other than leaving traces, we have to come up with really creative ways of getting them to speak.
Lynx Qualey 04:40
Right. Generally people did not, for instance, write down what they fed their cats? There are, of course, cat poems and there are entries on cats in medieval sources, but obviously they left far less of a trace than human beings. I’m still looking for this, I’m still looking for the people who are researching the changes and the shifts in ideas about people’s relationships with specifically cats, but I’m interested in this in general as well and it’s always surprising to find these spots in research that are emptier than one would like them to be.
N.A. Mansour 05:29
It’s funny, I think occasionally that, in the future in maybe 20 or 30 years, if you, inshallah, are still doing this, you actually would have a lot of fodder to do another CATS issue because there is so much content on cats today.
Lynx Qualey 05:47
People are definitely documenting their relationship with their cats a lot more now than they ever did previously. I’m trying to push a number of authors to write essays about their day to day relationship with their cat. I wish I could travel back through time and pressure other writers throughout the centuries to write these essays. Sadly, I can’t.
N.A. Mansour 06:15
Well, are you big on Instagram? Do you like to look around for new accounts to follow?
Lynx Qualey 06:22
Yeah, although most of them, I follow just based on what’s recommended. It’s one big Bookstagram for me.
N.A. Mansour 06:30
I recently have gotten very much into foster cats, foster kittens specifically, Instagram. I can send you if you would like some videos, but, I feel like now, all of my professional correspondence is professional correspondence and then a good deal of cat videos. Even on Instagram, I’ll be messaging someone and then I will realize that they like cats and I’m like, “Here’s a video of a kitten hitting its sibling.”
Lynx Qualey 06:57
One of the reasons I like the CATS issue is because I think it decenters and surprises people who read Arabic literature and translation generally, because so much of it is centered around ideas like exile and prison and the Arab spring and big political issues. I like saying, let’s talk about cats and literature. Let’s look at these other fun, unexpected aspects of literature. Let’s come at it from a totally different direction and I think cats are one of those things that you can attach to a work email and change the tone of it.
N.A. Mansour 07:46
I think that’s actually one of the running themes of Arablit Quarterly generally. For example, in The Eye, there was that lovely essay by May Hawas that tackled this issue of exile. I believe The Eye in it was a reference to that Hikma, to that saying that the monkey in the eye of its mother is a gazelle and it was this wonderful essay about exile and it was surprising in many different ways. I think you guys definitely, the whole team mashallah, integrated these different ways of inspiring wonder in the reader. For example, for that issue in particular, there were emojis in the design of it and then, of course, you have all these lovely, delightful features built into the literary magazine, the literary journal.
Lynx Qualey 08:42
I think Hassan is at least as integral into the decisions on content as I am because I think the form, the design, of it, how it comes down on the page is also an extremely important part of what we want to do with it. He has many ideas on how it looks that come back to shape the knowledge that we’re producing.
N.A. Mansour 09:17
I also want to give you, and you can frown at me, your due credit because I think you’ve integrated all these amazing different techniques, the literary playlists, which, by the way, I know people who use that technique now having seen it in your journal as a pedagogical tool. I think it’s so fanciful, but it’s also such a productive way of thinking about literature.
Lynx Qualey 09:48
I think the traditional book review has fallen out of favor for many reasons and many of them are good. There’s the kind of book review that is just telling you whether to buy it or not and you could really just sum that up in a sentence. “Yes, get this book. No, don’t get this book.” This 600 word book review that is just a summary of what’s going on in the text, I think readers became bored of them. Newspapers cut them out for all sorts of other reasons as well because advertisers weren’t interested in them, but I think we were always looking for different ways to help people think about, re-see, books, re-imagine books in ways that are– Of course, any essay about a book has to be entertaining to read as well. It’s not just an assignment in order to tell you about what happened. It has to be a work of art as well and the playlists have been a very lovely way to do that.
N.A. Mansour 11:04
And then you have all these other ways of playing with the words, but we can talk about it later. I want to talk more about that in addition to talking about you as a person.I want to hold you up on a pedestal because I admire you so much. I think everything you’ve done with the website, with the journal. Is it a journal or a zeen? What is your preferred vocabulary for describing Arablit Quarterly?
Lynx Qualey 11:36
Anything except “blog” I like. [Laughter] “Blog,” I think, has a sort of very negative connotation generally in intellectual academic spheres. I have found myself in positions where I felt shame for that word. Any other word is good for me. I love the word zeen actually. I was so excited about zeens when I was a teenager and in my early twenties, I made photocopied zeens so that’s good. That word is good with me.
N.A. Mansour 12:09
I don’t like the word “blog” because it’s the sort of thing that someone does on tumblr. The associations that a lot of academics have and I think a lot of the public has, if you don’t live half of your life on Twitter, if it’s not your water cooler, you assume that a blog is something you write and no one reads. Whereas I assume that Arablit is an institution. That’s how I think of it in my mind. It’s making all of the moves in Arabic literature and translation, and it, of course, has an impact on Arabic literature and Arabic as well, in my humble opinion. I want to ask, it makes sense to me, if you look at the trajectory of Arablit.org and then Arablit Quarterly and everything that comes with it, including all the nice swag, which I need to sit down and make an order and I highly encourage that everyone go to your store and support you, but also get themselves something pretty. It’s where a bunch of my presents this year for different birthdays are coming from. Tell me about how the natural outgrowth of these projects formed because it makes sense, I think, to create something physical out of the digital, even though we often think about it in the opposite direction?
Lynx Qualey 13:27
Well, the digital is just so easy to begin with, right? The digital began because I was reading a book and I wanted to write about it immediately. Things that I published previous to opening the blog: I write an essay and I submit it to a bunch of magazines and then you wait for a hundred years to hear about it from the magazine, then they publish it in their print issue and a hundred people read it and you never know about it. It just seems so distant to me. So, initially, I was reading a book and I just wanted to discuss it, write about it right then in the moment. I just opened a wordpress blog that day and probably nothing would have come of it, but <inaudible> somehow googled and found it and he left little encouraging words in the comments. Then, I kept writing and then Ursula and Asander or one of them found it by somehow Googling, I don’t know. They wrote about it in the Arabist.
I think there was a necessary point of contact that wasn’t happening, Arabic translators in different institutions who were on their own didn’t know what each other were doing. There was no central place in the field, at all, where information was being shared, so it became a hub. Its first iteration was as this digital hub of sharing information about what’s going on, then, as more things started turning into essays, I began to think, “I would like to have a place for experiment. I would like to have a place where we wall things off and we can pay people for a certain amount of work because people can, of course, set aside more time when they know that they’re going to be paid for something. I would like to make something that’s an object, I would like to make something that’s beautiful, that has all these different pieces together.” Because I’m always a little bit too impetuous about everything, I basically put up a survey and I said, “Hey, do you guys want me to do a magazine?” and everybody, except Adam <inaudible>, said yes. He said, “Marcia, why do you need to take on one more project?” and I said, “Because I want to, Adam!”
Out of this hub of connections came the podcast and the ability for me to go to different book fairs and talk to different people and help make these connections and then the print magazine. I think it all comes from these connections, from being able to put people in contact with each other in juxtaposition, to be able to help people see things differently because people, particularly in literature and translation, can get very in a bubble working by themselves in their office, in their home. They know their colleagues, but they don’t necessarily see what’s going on beyond that. Arabic literary translation had, in some ways, also become insulated from other literary translations. It was generally less experimental. It was generally less fun than some of the other translation projects going on out there, which were more loose and less academic and reading the crib notes of this classic piece rather than trying to experience what it might’ve been like, or look at it from different points of view. So, the print magazine, oddly, I use a retro form in order to try and do experimental things.
N.A. Mansour 17:51
I always wonder whether or not this is just me loving material history and material culture and fetishizing objects, but I think there is a fatigue of online content. We’re inundated with it all the time. We live so much of our lives online and then so many of us deal with texts online all the time. It’s just nice to have a physical object, but also just the visual, like I’m not going to poopoo books that don’t have pictures in them, those books are the majority of what we read, but I think that having something that’s so fanciful, it makes you think differently of the text.
Lynx Qualey 18:43
The other thing about online is that it was so easy to lose things, so Shawkat would send me an email saying, “Where was that piece you wrote about Michael Cooperson? I can’t find it. I’ve been searching for the last 20 minutes.” I started searching and I’m like, “I remember doing that piece, where is it? What did I call it?” So, online is ephemeral in this way whereas, if you have it as an object– it’s funny, you think, “Well, in some ways online is forever,” but if you have this object, I can hold it in my hands and see the full shape of it.
N.A. Mansour 19:21
It influences how you engage with it. I think it definitely changes your posture. It changes, like feeling paper, it just makes me think a lot more of the intentionality. One of the problems with the word “blog” or “website” or all these digital formats is that people assume that there’s no labor behind it and me and you both know that editing content to go online is really hard and the formatting is hard, but with a physical object, there’s a physical manifestation of labor right there.
Lynx Qualey 19:58
Right. Yeah. People, myself included, take a printed object more seriously. It’s a different relationship with your reader. You are making a difference there. They have a different expectation of you and you have a different expectation of them. If I have a typo on the website, “Oh, that’s another day, I will go in and fix it right now and I’m very sorry,” but the printed objects we read and reread and reread and reread and reread because there’s a different expectation of something you’re holding in your hand.
N.A. Mansour 20:44
I think a lot of that expectation actually does pass on the PDF too because there’s another expectation for something that’s so carefully formatted like that, that it is going to mimic some element of the object versus a website, but actually I do want to talk about the website because I think the website itself, no one would look at that and assume, as I said earlier, that there’s no work behind it just because you put up so much content. I’m signed up on WordPress to receive updates and not a day goes by where I don’t receive at least one update from your site. I think that’s a credit to you and your work ethic, which I want to speak about, and I want to celebrate just how creative you are.
Lynx Qualey 21:35
There’s a strange guilt attached to it now as well, like “Oh my God” if I don’t have a post in for tomorrow, like the sky might fall.
N.A. Mansour 21:46
Well, I don’t think the sky might fall. Let’s talk about work life or as you’ve put it elsewhere, worklit balance, I’ll link to that episode of Bulaq, but there is this expectation, especially during these days in the middle of the pandemic, we know that mental health is really important and that working 24/7 and workaholic cultures are out of this capitalistic impulse and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, but I think, to some extent, that also divorces the fact that you have a community that you are a member of and that you want to serve them, but also the creative impulse that some people have, it doesn’t quite fit that framework, but there is a need for balance, like all these things have to be considered.
Lynx Qualey 22:44
Right. Actually, my desire, no need/guilt, whatever we want to call it, to continually produce things for this community is based on being a part of this community. I would say it’s my most positive guilt. Other things where I feel the need to edit, take on one more editing project, take on one more publishing consulting gig, one more this, one more that, that’s driven by the fear of a marginalized workforce without health insurance, the precarity of being a freelancer in this position. Those things I wish I had a better balance for and I’m not exactly sure how to do it in the field that I’ve carved out for myself. Of course, nobody asked me to work in this field. I came in and habited this space, so, to a certain extent, I’ve made my bed and here it is, but I do like the feeling of responsibility toward this community, that I have created an expectation that I will read people’s work, edit it, bring it out on the website, make these connections, and that I live up to that, which I don’t always. There are probably some emails in my inbox that I need to see to.
N.A. Mansour 24:25
How do you approach balancing and do you have a philosophy?
Lynx Qualey 24:33
During this pandemic, it has been very hard. I saw something on Twitter that really applies to me. I used to work from home and now I live at work because I used to take a weekend day to surf, which is a wonderful way to just clear up everything out of your brain because, at least if you’re as novice as I am, you really need to focus on staying up on the board, but with everything shut down, I’ve really just been working around the clock lately. You really should not ever look to me for advice about balance.
N.A. Mansour 25:16
Well, let’s talk about surfing for a second because that’s actually a completely different side of you that none of us get to see on Twitter and on the blog. Why are you not starting a surfing– I’m sure there’s a surfing community on Instagram.
Lynx Qualey 25:37
No! Surfing is my space where I don’t produce anything. Surfing is my space where I just am, that’s why it’s my escape.
N.A. Mansour 25:45
Who got you into surfing or did you get into yourself?
Lynx Qualey 25:49
John Iskander, who does language for the US State Department and was based here in Morocco, he is from California (maybe) and he started surfing first and then he must’ve invited us along and I absolutely love it because it’s a nonproductive space, it’s just, you go up and you do the same action over and over again. You go out, you get up on your board, you ride it for a little while, then you fall off, you tumble on your head, it’s wonderfully mind clearing. I have thought about, if I were a poet and I would write an ode to surfing, but I’m not a poet.
N.A. Mansour 26:41
That’s the beauty of food too, you eat the product and then it’s gone unless you document it. You have to cook or you have to produce food, but there are these different elements to many things that we do that we should just do because we want to. That’s like one of the problems I find with media consumption is that sometimes I feel like media consumption is homework. There is the need to have an opinion.
Lynx Qualey 27:09
You can really infect yourself with the need to produce in every sphere of your life. In the first year that I was a parent, I produced a lot of photos. I was so focused on producing photographs of my son and producing something out of this moment rather than just sitting there and being in this moment, which hopefully I have shifted in that direction.
N.A. Mansour 27:36
Are the other two kids jealous that there aren’t as many photos of them?
Lynx Qualey 27:40
Oh no, their father takes lots of photos. There’s no shortage of photos. I don’t take pictures of food and I really appreciate a lot of the work that people put into sharing their food production on the internet because it teaches me a lot about other people’s food, but I like to have things where I am a complete novice at it and I just do it because I like it.
N.A. Mansour 28:11
I think there’s something freeing about having no expectations on oneself or something,
Lynx Qualey 28:16
Yes, actually. Some of the people I serve with take lessons and they’re intent on improving and there was going to be a competition of different levels, but I said, “No, I think I want to be a beginning surfer forever.” I’m happy with exactly the level of terrible surfing I do right now.
N.A. Mansour 28:34
What’s your favorite part of that?
Lynx Qualey 28:37
Oh God, I don’t know, like the moment you get up on the board. Maybe I’m still like in love with the fact that I can– I think with a bicycle, there was maybe that moment, that first moment, when you realize you could stay up on the bike and keep pedaling and you kept going, but then every other time, now if I get on a bicycle, it’s pretty normal. Yes, I can do it without managing to fall, but, so far, every time I get up on the board, I am still amazed. There I am. I’m standing up, I’m surfing, I’m moving around. It’s brilliant.
N.A. Mansour 29:15
It’s interesting to me because surfing is something I have always wanted to try, but I’ve never lived near a body of water that’s big enough, but I am able to ski because– I don’t know why, but there are lots of different reasons why we got into skiing as a family. What I enjoy about it is the sheer absurdity of it. People use this as a form of transportation and now it’s a sport and it’s really fun to go. It feels like a Mario kart game, like I’m just zooming along and I’m not very good at it. My brothers are really focused on technique, but I just like zooming down a hill. It’s fun.
Lynx Qualey 29:57
I’m definitely not focused. A lot of the people I surf with are improving their technique and occasionally the guy will shout out to me, “No, you’re supposed to put your back foot like this.” I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. My back foot, whatever.”
N.A. Mansour 30:15
Ahh, the impulse of other people to make them conform to their way of being sometimes. I actually have a question for you and it’s a bit of a plea for advice as well, because I also deal with texts and written things all day and it broke my relationship with reading. I had the hardest time reading it. For the longest time, I couldn’t read in certain languages for fun, mostly English, because I was just consuming badly written English all day and I recently got back into it. It was really hard. It was a lot of reading certain things that I enjoy, like good nutritious writing, beautiful writing for just no purpose whatsoever because I wanted to. I’m always curious how people who professionally deal with words and writing things deal with the written word. I feel like you still love books though and reading.
Lynx Qualey 31:20
Yes, but I think this is absolutely something that generally afflicts people who work in academia with literature and people who review professionally. I have had moments where I was just sick of reading so many bad things in a row because, if texts are assigned to you, you can end up reading several books in a row that you really did not enjoy. I always set aside time for what I call “guilty pleasure” reading. Some people don’t understand why I call the books “guilty pleasure” reading when it wouldn’t be their guilty pleasure, but what I mean is nonprofessional reading that I’m reading simply for the delight of it. I found that I need to respect not just old genres, which I respect anyway, like if I want to read a YA fantasy novel and that’s what my Arabic reading is right now, nobody is going to make me feel bad about it, but also all different methods of taking that in. So, me reading an audio book is reading a book. Any different method of reading, me reading a graphic novel is me reading a book. I just try to keep it as mixed and varied as possible because I know if you eat carrots every day or if you eat a cheese sandwich every meal for every day, at a certain point you’re going to be like, “I hate food. Food is awful!” but it’s not food, it’s the sameness of it. I think to stay in love with reading, you need to keep a variety of things in front of you, or at least that’s how it’s necessary to me.
N.A. Mansour 33:24
I fundamentally disagree with the notion that all words need to be read. One of the breakthroughs that I had a couple of years ago was that podcasts were a form of literary production. I think it was when I began recording things and, at the end, I began to realize how much work it took to get, especially a scripted podcast, done. It’s also just about consuming ideas. I feel like you’re consuming all these different ideas and you’re engaging with people in all these different ways. I enjoy that about it and, also, there’s a craft to the YouTube video and the way it’s composed and all that. Thinking about the scenes of something, it takes away from some of that enjoyment sometimes.
Lynx Qualey 34:13
To me, it’s so important not to, even though I say guilty pleasure as if I’m feeling guilty about it even though I’m not, open up all kinds of different spaces for yourself to enjoy knowledge and entertainment production in all these different ways. I love audio books. As some people know, that’s my secret dream. I want to be an audiobook reader. I love listening a lot. I love reading. I love feeling the paper, reading different genres. I love reading works that are written for children. If they’re beautifully written, they’re beautifully written. I’ve gotten pushback from a number of academics when I suggest YA novels, particularly if they’re students who are beginning readers in Arabic, I just don’t see the shame in giving them a YA novel in Arabic. I often get the, “Well, these are adults. They should be reading adult books.” I like children’s books. I like adult books. I like philosophy and I like laughing at ridiculous things.
N.A. Mansour 35:34
We’ve talked about books and we’ve talked about audio, but I’m really curious, a complete aside of a question, what television do you like? Do you like television as a medium and visual production, like visual production that moves?
Lynx Qualey 35:55
Moving pictures! I’ve heard of them. Yes, I do. I like anything that tells a story well. I think there’s always some form of entertainment or media that we look down on, that we say is not as serious. Watching TV is not as serious as reading books or, previously, reading fiction was not as serious as reading non-fiction, but I love all of them. Recently, I’ve been watching a lot of K dramas. I know that some people will make fun of me for that, but it’s Dina Muhammad’s fault. She got me into it, so blame her
N.A. Mansour 36:42
For everything else, lovely that she brings into the world since we mentioned graphic novels. It’s funny. I’m really into Korean horror right now. It’s so much fun to watch.
Lynx Qualey 37:01
I think one of the things I really like about this spate of K-dramas that I’m watching is there’s such a different attitude towards television and there’s so many noble morals that I’m ingesting. If you found a noble moral in an American show, you would– I don’t know what your reaction would be. You might pass out, but it’s a different attitude towards storytelling. The thing about my TV consumption is that it’s similar to my literary consumption in that I’m always interested in what are other cultures, what are other unfamiliar languages, how are they producing narratives? How are they being translated? How are they coming to me? Looking at the terrible Netflix subtitles to some of the shows, but enjoying them nonetheless, enjoying the terrible translations.
N.A. Mansour 38:10
When I lived in Jordan for a year, they broadcast Boys Over Flowers, which I believe is available on Netflix actually, in fusha and it’s one of these things where it’s like watching one of these older Arab historical dramas that they serialized during Ramadan, but you’re watching it and it’s about a bunch of teenagers living in roughly 10 years ago Korea. It’s the style of that period and they’re speaking fusha and it’s entertaining and it’s winding and they’re really long and it’s a fun intertextual thing to do if you want to intellectualize like that.
Lynx Qualey 38:48
I sometimes like to watch a Korean show with the subtitles in fusha, just to mix it up and be crazy. These intersections are always wonderful. There was a Q&A a few days ago on Arablit about the intersections of classical Chinese and classical Arabic literature, which is a topic I’m endlessly– actually any era of the intersections of Arabic and Chinese literatures, I’m in, I’m absolutely wrapped with how these connections are the same and different from connections between English literature and French literature and other world literatures. How influence moved through and how adab and wénxué, if I’m not getting it wrong, in Chinese are similar and, of course, different?
N.A. Mansour 40:00
I also enjoy the fact that there’s a market for these things beyond where they come from, and it’s a weird moment of engagement. They’re all these different things that could be happening in these engagements. You can’t control them as a creator, or even as an audience member. You can’t control how other people are thinking, I couldn’t control what my roommate was thinking about this Korean drama that we were watching, but it’s one of these moments that it’s almost like you’re in a free-fall and you can just enjoy it. I do worry that my habits are changing in a way that is not good, but I also don’t believe in guilty pleasure anyway, that’s going off into a meandering direction. One thing you expertly do, and you referenced this earlier– I do think actually you should be, if someone needs to pick you up and become your agent for audiobook production because people comment all the time on your voice and the fact that you have a good voice for narration, mashallah, and that you do an excellent job on the podcast you produce.
Lynx Qualey 41:11
I think I need to just start recording some people’s books for free and see how it goes. It takes a lot of time to sit down and read out somebody’s book without any errors in that chapter, but you were talking about this in the ways in which things are shifting. If you didn’t spend so much time on Twitter, you would have produced a book by now. I can see the legitimacy in this argument: if I want to succeed in my field, if I want to ascend to great heights, I should not be on Twitter and then producing a magazine. I should focus on a thing. There’s a great deal of not, maybe not a great deal, but I feel that shame around this multitasking, of flipping windows, of not focusing on a single thing, of course I do sit down with a book and read it for several hours in a row, but I can also scroll through 600 different tabs, but Twitter is also an excellent point, among all the other things it is, an excellent point of not just knowledge production, but of contention and discussion, of opening up new issues, not always in the best possible way, but I have learned amazing things through these micro conversations. If this is the way we’re going, then here we are. I’m on the boat.
N.A. Mansour 43:02
Part of the reason I wanted to do this podcast is because I feel that there are different ways in which people work. I find the way people work fascinating. I think that people’s processes are interesting. I don’t say that we should all be working 24/7 and producing. I come from this school of thought where I think staring into space for five hours is a “productive” use of one’s time, rather a good use of one’s time. I think people work in different ways and I like thinking about the way people work, just because I learn so much more about them. It’s like going home to meet your friends, family, and being like, “Oh, so that’s where my friend got this passion for this or that’s where my friend got this specific way they roll their eyes.” I learned so much about how my friends and colleagues function, which gets me to another thing. I think that Twitter may make this huge, massive jump from the word colleague, if you’ll bear with me. I met you on Twitter. I think we find new cloud collaborative partners on Twitter all the time. You promote your work brilliantly through Twitter. Let me just open your account. You had just issued, two or three weeks ago, the new issue of Arablit Quarterly and it’s pinned to the top of your page. People can, if they visit your page, get a copy or subscribe or, if they’re just coming across you for the first time, they can learn all these different things about Arablit, translation, and all these opportunities by going through your page. There are horrible things about it, like when people decide they want to mansplain to you, them being of any gender affiliation, of course, but there’s also this wonderful capacity for, like you said, micro conversations, and I think you use Twitter tremendously well.
Lynx Qualey 45:09
I guess I have met almost the entirety of the people who are my colleagues in this endeavor either through the comments of the blog or, much more likely, through Twitter or some other form of social media. These become people I have now met in person and been on panels with and done projects with because, otherwise, I do work entirely in a solo space. These offer spaces for encounters that I’m not sure I would otherwise have had access to.
N.A. Mansour 45:52
I think especially in a world where we are all so far drift, why should you just have to work with the people who live in your neighborhood or go to the same institution you do. Also, what you’re doing is really this, it’s this community, but it’s also this act of service. I think so many people have told me that they began reading Arabic literature and translation because they googled something and they came across your blog. This was in the early days as well and not speaking of today when it’s this encyclopedic thing that I can’t even explain in a single word, but back when it was only you editing it and writing for it. Even then, you produced all this different content at an amazing pace. You always have this capacity to create, not to produce, but to create.
Lynx Qualey 46:49
The thing is that it always feels like there’s an audience who cares about it. As long as there’s an audience who cares about it, I will continue to be there and that is the part that I really enjoy. Finding somebody who wants to develop their translation skills and helping them find somebody who wants to make connections with people, working in a different sphere or publishers or whatever. This really matters to me to be able to help people make these connections.
N.A. Mansour 47:25
Tell me more about the podcast because that is a very different way in which you create and you innovate and you also have a partner who you work with on that, who you actually converse with and exchange ideas with. We get to see you think together, which is wonderful.
Lynx Qualey 47:43
We started it out because here we were both living in Rabat and she already had equipment because Ursula Lindsay, my co host, sometimes did radio that we’re both interested in many of the same texts and questions and reading some of the same things. It started out as a conversation and then as it developed, as these things gained steam, there’s a process, an internal process, of improvement that just happens. You realize that we don’t want to talk about 15 separate issues on each show. We need to plan them. There was a moment when we were going to plan them each out in the way that you would produce an hour long NPR episode, to create this long bibliography beforehand, do intense research, and have specific guests for each segment. To do that without being funded, I think, in the end, seemed a bit much, but I think there is a lot produced in these conversations. They’re semi-formalized conversations. We do have guests on, we will have a guest on the next episode, which we’re recording tomorrow. We present ourselves with a semi-structured set up in which we’ve read certain texts together and then we are thinking through these things aloud. Some of it will be more scintillating than other parts, presumably, but something new comes out of it that we didn’t expect because it’s not scripted, because we had considered scripting as well, because it’s unscripted, there are moments where we surprise ourselves, which is the fun part, I guess.
N.A. Mansour 49:54
How has the podcast been received?
Lynx Qualey 49:57
The podcast is a little bit more difficult to gauge than the website because it’s much more of a relationship that you don’t see as much, or at least this is how it’s been for me. There are people who feel that they know me because they listen to my voice while they’re doing their dishes or driving in their car, but they don’t talk back, in my experience, as much as they do with the blog or with Twitter, where it’s so easy to talk back. I know a little bit less about how people perceive, unless it’s Eman Marcell, I know what she thinks of the episode we did about her book, but people reach out less, I think, to podcasters than they do to people whose writing that they’ve read.
N.A. Mansour 51:01
I feel like people just send me a message and <inaudible>. They bring it up at the end of a conversation when I’m least expecting it and I think it’s often weird when, I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience, someone looked at me and said, “It’s weird because I know what your voice sounds like, but it’s coming out of your face now.”
Lynx Qualey 51:23
Right. For so many years, when I would meet someone, they’re like, “You’re real.” Yes, I’m not simply a conglomeration of words and sounds, I’m a full person.
N.A. Mansour 51:39
With likes and interests and all these other things that make you a full person that aren’t related to the podcasts, right?
Lynx Qualey 51:46
To some extent, it’s a crafted identity. What I post about on Twitter is all about, 99% about, Arabic literature. I do think about other things, I have food. I occasionally look out the window, that sort of thing.
N.A. Mansour 52:09
You go on walks and you engage with people in your life, then you do all the normal people things, but people don’t assume that with personalities. I think you actually handled being a personality very well. I think the reason why your voice is so successful on Twitter, for example, on the blog is that you have a personal voice. That makes people think that they know you. I don’t mean to shame them, but this Instagram influencer or YouTube influencer, where, again, because there’s that visual aspect, people assume that they have an entry to all these different points of your life. I do think there’s a craft to that. I’m trying not to debate influencers, I think that there’s craft to that and that is a whole other conversation. I’m just trying to nuance things and then it gets out of control.
I think that your voice is very personal, even though I think Arablit is your handle, right? It’s not your name, but your name is your profile name. It functions as both, but you have cracked the code, I think, for Twitter engagement, for blog engagement, and for your Instagram. It has a personal voice, it’s not just the website or an institution or a journal. It’s someone who cares about these things, the institution takes on its own personality and soul and your voice gets that to it.
Lynx Qualey 53:42
Well, I don’t know about any of that, but one of the things I really like about being on Twitter and having that interaction is that I don’t see, I’m sure many people have read this Harper’s letter, but I like being called out. I like being held to account about things. I like being told that I screwed up something. I like having those conversations, even if they have to be uncomfortable because, otherwise, I wouldn’t need them. I think that’s the wonderful thing about Twitter. Yeah, mansplaining occurs, but I have never experienced the bad side of somebody of being piled on for something I didn’t deserve. I’ve only been addressed for things that I have reconsidered after conversation. I really appreciate that aspect of people. If you read a piece in a magazine and it is a print magazine, you can fume about it, you can write a letter to the editor, but there’s less of that instant “You screwed up,” and I like that so much about Twitter.
N.A. Mansour 55:19
Where do you see this? You have, as you said earlier, and you implied that you have ideas all the time and you’re clearly, as I have lavished praise upon you, this extremely creative individual whose work elevates others. That’s part of what I want to celebrate, people who elevate other people. You highlight all these different things, your sensitivity to the fact that there are non-Arabic languages in the region and that many of the people that these literatures cover are multilingual. I think you’re doing a wonderful job. Can I ask a nasty question and ask where you see Arablit in the coming years? What are your hopes and dreams for it?
Lynx Qualey 56:03
It’s like a job interview question. In five years, I will be the most productive employee in the company. [Laughter] I can just tell you about things that I’m excited about at the moment. I really enjoyed this Arabic translation challenge, that I have to give Kevin Blankenship, Yusuf Raqha, Yasmine Siel, Robin Mosher, those guys all the credit for starting that community and Kevin for bringing it then to Arablit for us to try and bring it to a different space. Now, we’re taking a break from it and then I would like to think about other ways that Arabic translation challenge and thinking of it, not as a contest of different ways we can translate these largely poetic texts, but as a personal challenge, as a point of interest, as a fun engagement. Where can we bring that next? Are there ways we can bring it into classrooms or are their ways we can bring it into events? Are there ways we can bring it out to more translators? What do we do with it next? Kevin and I will have a conversation about that.
I’m excited about the magazine and I want to try and find a couple more dollars for it because I want to bring on more people so that there’s more push and shove and more ideas outside of what I think is a good idea. I don’t know how academics do this. I have literally no idea how to find funding other than what I’ve done so far, which is to just ask readers, “Hey, would you like to donate a couple bucks to me? Yes. Fine. Okay, great.” To professionalize the magazine a little bit more so that I can include more people in the editing process in a way that doesn’t feel bad or wrong or exploitative to me, so that we are able to pay people for their time.
N.A. Mansour 58:36
I would like to everyone to note that if they go to patreon.com/arablit, they will find a way to support the magazine and that there are tiers and you will get little things for subscribing.
Lynx Qualey 58:50
If you work for the Ford foundation or whatever and want to just give me money, you can do that too.
N.A. Mansour 58:55
She will also take donations from the Ford foundation and maybe from private individuals, who don’t want any creative engagement with the project itself, angel funders is what they call themselves. Well, of course, best of luck and we’re so excited for the CATS issue, which hopefully will come out right before that, so we’ll hopefully give it a little boost.
N.A. Mansour 59:27
Thank you for listening and, again, a big thank you to Marcia Lynx Qualey. You can follow her @mlynxqualey on Twitter. You can keep up with her website, Arablit.org, and subscribe for updates as well as support the journal/zeen Arablit Quarterly. You can follow Arablit @arablit on Twitter, on the Bulaq Podcast too, which is co-hosted by Marsha and Ursula Lindsey. You can follow me @NAMansour26 and you can follow the Maydan @themaydan on Twitter. The production team includes Micah Hughes, who you can follow on Twitter at @MicahAHughes and Ahmet Tekelioglu. Our music is by Blue Dot Sessions. Be sure to subscribe or follow the Maydan on social media for upcoming episodes and more on the Maydan selection of Podcasts.