Katharine Halls works at the intersection of literature, research, and activism. She translates Arabic into English, working equally with modern standard and colloquial Arabic. Though commercial pressure frequently imposes limits on the relationship between translator and text, Halls rejects a purely pragmatic approach and instead sees the writers, artists, filmmakers and activists whose texts she translates as collaborators and allies.
Halls earned a BA in Arabic and Hebrew Studies from the University of Oxford before studying translation and interpreting at the University of Manchester. She obtained a second MA, in Middle Eastern Studies, at the American University in Cairo.
In 2017, Halls was awarded the prestigious Sheikh Hamad Award for her co-translation of Saudi author Raja Alem’s novel The Dove’s Necklace, the first book written by a woman to win the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. In 2021 Halls was awarded a PEN/Heim grant to translate a short story collection by Egyptian writer Haytham El-Wardany, who was in residence at Callie’s in 2020-21. She has translated work by Rasha Abbas, Basma Abdelaziz, Alaa Abd el-Fattah, Kamal Boullata, Mortada Gzar, Ameer Hamad, Shady Lewis, Ahmad Naji, Mohammad Rabie, Adania Shibli, Salma El Tarzi, and Liwaa Yazji. Halls seeks out writing with a distinctive voice, asking anglophone readers to consider the new while reconsidering the familiar.
Though it is unusual for a literary translator, Halls works with a wide range of spoken Arabic dialects and regularly translates theater and film scripts. Her translations for the stage have been performed at the Royal Court and the Edinburgh Festival, and her subtitling projects include groundbreaking films like Philip Rizk and Jasmina Metwaly’s Out On The Street (2015) and Mohammad Shawky Hassan’s Shall I Compare You to a Summer’s Day? (2022). In 2011, Halls co-founded the translation team for Mosireen, a media collective focused on documenting the revolution taking place in Egypt at the time. Disseminating coverage and creating international networks was an essential part of Mosireen’s work; Halls set up a team of volunteer translators that subtitled Mosireen’s videos in English and other languages. She describes solidarity as the organizing principle of Mosireen’s work and one which she has sought to keep at the center of her own practice.
Halls has also taught at the universities of Oxford and Manchester and now teaches translation to secondary school students with UK-based Shadow Heroes, a decolonial, intersectional and anti-racist organisation that use translation to encourage critical and rebellious thinking. Her work with Shadow Heroes follows Halls’s belief that translation at its best can be both beautiful and subversive.
During her time at Callie’s in 2021, Halls worked on translating exiled Egyptian writer Ahmed Naji’s prison memoir. An urgent denunciation of censorship in Egypt, as well as an irreverent account of how—behind bars—Ahmed came of age as a writer, the book will be published by McSweeney’s in 2023. She also spent time working on Salma El Tarzi’s artist’s book An Attempt To Remember My Face, a combination of delicate illustration and intimate vernacular writing in which the author revisits her relationships with the women in her life. An excerpt from the project was published in the January 2022 issue of Asymptote, the premiere journal for literature in translation.