Salma Khadra Jayyusi
Salma Khadra Jayyusi was born in Jordan to a Palestinian father and a Lebanese mother. She grew up in Palestine surrounded by books on Arab/Islamic and Western culture, listened endlessly to stories of Arab/Islamic history and to the legends of courage, love and charity from both Arab and Western cultures; and witnessed her father's persistent struggle to gain justice for the Palestinians. She completed her secondary education in Jerusalem and then graduated with honours in Arabic and English Literature from the American University of Beirut. Soon after her graduation she married a Jordanian diplomat and lived, as a diplomat’s wife, in several countries. She only began her career as a writer and professor after raising her three children. Her first collection of poetry, Return from the Dreamy Fountain, was published in 1960.
She began her critical career writing in Arabic, then, when she went to London for her Ph.D., which she obtained in 1970 specializing in Arabic literature, she also started writing in English. Her poetry and critical writings and her writings on literary and cultural history (in both Arabic and English) have appeared in books and in many journals.
She started her teaching career first at the University of Khartoum (1970-1973), then at the universities of Algiers and Constantine (1973-1975). In 1973, she was invited by the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to go on a lecture tour in Canada and the US, on a Ford Foundation Fellowship. Then, in 1975, the University of Utah invited her to return as a visiting professor of Arabic literature. She has remained in the US since, teaching at several universities (Utah, Washington, Texas) and doing research at the University of Michigan.
In 1980, she came to the realization that the paucity of Arabic literary and cultural material in world languages, which largely lies behind the misrepresentation of Arab/Islamic culture in the West, must be faced with determination. She took the decision to leave teaching and dedicate her time to the dissemination of Arab/Islamic culture. With the cooperation of other colleagues in both America and Britain, she founded PROTA, the Project of Translation from Arabic, which she still directs. The project has created eight comprehensive anthologies and many single -author books in translation. These works aim to introduce some of the best creative examples of Arabic literature, classical and modern, to the English-speaking world. She commissions the translations to efficient bilingual translators as a first stage, then does the finishing process with the cooperation of established writers and poets in America and Britain. All PROTA anthologies and many of its single-author books have introductions mostly written by Jayyusi herself, elucidating their artistic and semantic value.
Jayyusi later realized that it was equally important to introduce cogent cultural studies as well into the programme. She then founded East-West Nexus, and her first work in this field was The Legacy of Muslim Spain, a 1,100-page book written by 42 world scholars. Published by Brill in the Netherlands, it has gone into several printings in hardback and paperback and was declared by Brill an absolute bestseller.
In 1999, she received a Fulbright Fellowship to do research on the life of the Palestinians in the 20th century as depicted in their personal account writings, and spent the years 1999-2000 doing research in Syria, Jordan and the West Bank, three places with a large concentration of Palestinians.
Jayyusi has received several awards for her outstanding achievements and continues to be involved in numerous projects. Her most recent work, My Jerusalem: Essays, Reminiscences and Poems appeared last year.
(Courtesy of the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre)