Denys Johnson-Davies

The American University in Cairo Press notes with great sadness the passing of the leading and award-winning Arabic–English translator Denys Johnson-Davies, one month before his ninety-fifth birthday.
Born in Canada in 1922 and raised in Cairo, Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya, Johnson-Davies returned to Cairo as a young man in the 1940s and began a literary career that spanned some seventy years and resulted in more than thirty volumes of translated Arabic novels, short stories, plays, and poetry, bringing the works of a host of writers from across the Arab world, including his friends Naguib Mahfouz, Tawfiq al-Hakim, and Yusuf Idris, to an ever-widening English readership. In his autobiography, Memories in Translation: A Life between the Lines of Arabic Literature (AUC Press, 2006), he told the story of a life in translation, and gave intimate glimpses of many of the Arab writers who are becoming increasingly known in the west.

In the 1960s he started an influential Arabic literary magazine, Aswat, which published the leading avant-garde writers of the time, and in 1967 he put together the first representative volume of short stories from the Arab world. Then he really put Arabic writing on the international literary map with the establishment of the Heinemann Arab Authors series, after which he continued to select and translate the best of Arabic fiction. He also translated several books of Islamic Hadith (with Ezzeddin Ibrahim) and other books of Islamic thought, and wrote a large number of children’s books of Middle Eastern history and folktales. His last book, Homecoming: Sixty Years of Egyptian Short Stories (AUC Press, 2012), was a unique selection of some fifty stories representing several generations of Egypt’s leading short story writers.
Johnson-Davies was described by the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said as “the leading Arabic–English translator of our time.” He was “a pioneer in the project of translating works of modern Arabic literature into English and in the complex process of persuading publishers of the value of publishing such works in the Anglophone market,” according to Roger Allen, translator and emeritus professor of Arabic and comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania. And Paul Starkey, translator and professor of Arabic at Durham University credits him with “putting modern Arabic writing on the map.”

Naguib Mahfouz wrote in 2006 that Johnson-Davies, whom he had “known and admired since 1945, was the first person to translate my work,” and had “done more than anybody to translate modern Arabic fiction into English and promote it.”

In 2007 he received the Sheikh Zayed Book Award for Personality of the Year in the Field of Culture.

22 May 2017



In the seat of AUC Press associate director for sales & marketing

Meet The Staff



Trevor Naylor started work in his local bookstore in Hull, England in 1979. Since then he has worked continuously in the publishing and bookselling industry. He first came to Cairo as general bookstore manager for AUC Press from 1987 to 1990. Whilst working for Thames and Hudson publishers in London he and his wife Liz also owned their own family store The Highway Bookshop in Essex for ten years.

As a director of sales and marketing for many publishers in the fields of art, design, culture, travel, and all areas of visual culture and history, Trevor has traveled very widely, particularly across Asia and the Middle East. He is the author of three books, including Cairo Inside Out, with Doriana Dimitrova (AUC Press, 2016).

Here is what he thinks about his current job.

What is it like being the head of sales and marketing of AUC Press?

I really feel I have a fun and creative role as sales and marketing director here in Cairo. Having been involved in selling books for many publishers over almost forty years and in over ninety countries I can safely say Egypt today remains special. In the world of books it is as exciting as it was when I first worked at AUC in the 1980s as the bookstore manager.

One of the most unusual elements of my role today in fact is that it still combines working to sell and market AUC Press books around the world with overseeing and directing the team in AUC Bookstores as well. What is it like? It is like every day in Egypt. You set out with one set of tasks in mind every morning and return having done something totally different!

For all of us at AUC Press I think we have a special goal which runs parallel to promoting our books and authors. We also all want to promote and market Egypt itself through great books and by balancing out some of the mixed messages which the international media present to the world about life here. 

What are some of the biggest challenges that you face?

Despite the world now being interconnected online our physical position far from the main English-language publishing centers of the USA and UK does still pose a major challenge to getting our voice heard. However, we have made huge strides forward in building our sales and marketing networks and skills. The ability to sell books in digital form has also helped bridge that gap. On the bookselling side the post-revolution period has been very tough for all bookshops in Egypt but thankfully we are seeing signs of improvement.

How does one best  market a book once it has been published?

One of the great joys and challenges of marketing books is that every single book is unique. Most books do fit into a general category of topic and level of content but beyond that we need to then target very specific groups in order to make the potential readers aware of the book and where to buy it. Despite all the new ways to work online we still also greatly value reviews and recommendations in expert publications to ensure titles get noticed. Here in Egypt we sell a lot of books and events as well as bookstore displays are key. At the more academic end of our publishing we work with our worldwide distribution partners to have our authors’ books at important conferences and book fairs across the globe.

To what extent should authors themselves get involved in the publicity of their book?

As the author of three books I can safely say that author involvement these days is critical to help build awareness of a new book. It is remarkable how much work it takes to simply have busy friends and colleagues notice you have written a book! In a world where everyone is constantly bombarded with digital imagery and information it is vital that authors help ensure that the audience they wrote for knows the book has arrived. AUC Press marketing now spend much more time extracting information from authors to help target the marketing towards the best areas. Authors too are more media savvy as in the end selling books is to all our benefit.

Can you divulge some secrets of a good book publishing marketing manager?

First and foremost is to avoid complacency and to be ready to learn something new every day. Each new book is a new product, developed and designed for a new audience, which can be sold in a new way. Learning like this leads to clever new ways to sell the idea of a book to new customers. Our marketing team are learning this. Our marketing manager came from outside publishing to find that this new world of books is totally different from any other industry. That is what makes it fun and everyday different.

Are there aspects in the publishing industry that people outside the business ignore or take for granted?

There are readers and there are non-readers in the world. There are too many of the latter. As a publisher, salesman, bookseller, and now author, I have to say that the lack of understanding by people when shown a book can be disheartening. I know how much time and effort went into making something special and often beautiful that will last for many years. So when someone holds it and says ‘that’s nice’ and then puts it down, it can be frustrating!

What excites you about your job?

I have been very fortunate in how far and wide my career has taken me so far. From owning a bookshop in England to visiting customers in Machu Picchu and being taken through the Khyber Pass to sell books. I was lucky enough to help develop publishing programs in India and Australia, and with River Books in Bangkok as well as my many years as a director of Thames and Hudson. Much of my publishing work has allowed me to make friends across the whole world, with booksellers, publishers, sales people and marketers. Today with online connectivity I can stay in touch with a whole industry and tap into a lifetime's experience when needed. Bringing all that to bear on what AUC Press does and where it takes its publishing is what excites me. We are a great team and we all care deeply about what we do for AUC and for Egypt.

How different is publishing in Egypt from the UK or the US?

The principles are the same...everything else is different!!!

Can one ever really predict the success of a book?

Obvious winners are just that, which is why publishers fight to acquire them. After that it is hard work and instinct combined that make a book successful.

Do academic publishers take more risks in their selection of publications?

There is usually risk in publishing a book. Whilst the key is for the author to deliver great content the skill is in the publisher’s ability to make a great book from those words and pictures, and of course to sell and market it.

May 2017

A chat with Nadia Naqib in her office



Nadia Naqib is senior commissioning editor at AUC Press, where she acquires and develops scholarly and general books in Middle East Studies.

She holds a BA degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from the University of Oxford and an MA in Economic Development and History from SOAS, London. Before moving into acquisitions, she was managing editor at AUC Press.
She has lived in Cairo for 13 years.

Here is what she thinks about commisioning manuscripts, meeting authors, and working in a fascinating city. 




What’s a ‘normal’ day in the office for the AUC Press senior commissioning editor?

No one day is ever the same! Submissions probably take up most of my time. I’ll read parts of an unsolicited manuscript, look for peer reviewers for scholarly manuscripts, discuss new book proposals with my colleagues, and talk to authors about ways in which they can shape or refine a proposal or manuscript.

I also spend a lot of time on written correspondence, researching and pitching new book ideas to authors or colleagues, briefing the managing editor on contracted manuscripts, drafting rejection letters, and writing to authors to convey my colleagues’ or our academic review board’s feedback to their book proposals. At catalog time, I start pressing authors for jacket copy and biographical data as well as book cover ideas and pictures. I often draft copy myself, which is fun.

Conference planning and follow-up soak up time at key points in the year (just try wading through a MESA program!) and I often attend talks or lectures on campus or elsewhere. And I read, read, read—books, journal articles, other publishers’ catalogs, online articles, social media, anything that might identify new book ideas or authors as well as keep me in touch with trends in Middle East Studies book publishing.
How important is it to listen to the author’s sales pitch?

Authors usually approach us for the first time in writing rather than in person—with a book proposal and one or two sample chapters. A pitch, in the form of a covering letter and/or outline proposal is a useful hook and way into a book’s structure, but it’s the writing and substantive content which count the most.

Plus authors’ ideas of who will actually buy their book are often quite different, at least in my experience, from those of my sales & marketing colleagues; or let’s just say that authors tend to cast the net a little wider! The first question our sales & marketing director always asks when someone presents a new book to the in-house publishing team is, “Where in the bookshop do you see this going?” Sales folk have to sell a book, hence the question.

Are there elements in a submitted manuscript that can really seduce an editor?

Good writing grabs an editor right away. If text has pace and flair, is persuasive, well-structured, and flows easily from paragraph to paragraph and chapter to chapter, then I’m likely to want to read on and find out more. With other manuscripts, the writing may not sparkle but if the content holds ground-breaking scholarship or adds new knowledge to a field, then it’s going to get noticed.
Do you ever get attached to a manuscript to the point where you feel almost sad to hand it over to the managing editor for copy-editing?

Yes, particularly if I enjoyed shaping a book idea or proposal with an author in the early stages and developed a real rapport with them. I try to manage just one manuscript per publishing season (we have two: Fall and Spring) from copy-editing through to design and final published book. It means I keep a hand in the book production side of things, which feeds back into my acquisitions work in all sorts of useful ways. In any case, I try to stay involved in the production and marketing of all the books I contract.

     Nadia Naqib in a meeting with editorial intern Catherine Holland

When you read a book proposal or manuscript, are there unavoidable first reactions?

Always. If it’s a scholarly manuscript, I assess the broad subject matter to see if it fits with our publishing list and try to find out more about the author. If the proposal or manuscript looks good, I immediately start thinking of potential peer reviewers or of people in my network who might be able to suggest reviewers to me. Review work can take months, and the reviews are shared and discussed with our editorial review board so I’ll want to keep this process going reasonably quickly in case the author gets discouraged.

If it’s a proposal or manuscript for a trade or illustrated book and I think it looks exciting I start thinking of how I’m going to present it to my colleagues in-house and the key people I need to bring on board to support it. If there are a lot of illustrations I might start thinking right away about permissions and potential book covers, how much the book will cost to produce, and the likely readership. I’ll want to make sure the proposal is as complete as possible before I pitch it to my colleagues so I may write back to the author in the first instance or set up a meeting with them to ask them questions before I take things further. 

What is the biggest challenge in a publishing editor’s job?

Because we’re based in Cairo, the perception that we’re a publisher with visibility and distribution in Egypt and parts of the Arab world alone persists—and that very persistence both fascinates and frustrates me. One of my challenges, I think, is making authors aware of the fact that AUC Press is an international publisher, with outreach and distribution in North America, Europe and the rest of the world, as well as in the Middle East. All our books are available through Amazon, and our non-illustrated scholarly and trade titles are available as e-books. We’re also in the unique position of being able to tap into the enormous wealth of talent in Egypt and the region and to bring that to the outside world.

Have you ever been taken by surprise by how well a book sold?

Yes. I think dark horses lurk about in most publishers’ lists and it always comes as a pleasant surprise when numbers of a book sold exceed all our sales and marketing department’s expectations.

What do you like most about your job?

The fact that I get the chance to meet so many talented, creative people and that there is no one way of finding new books and authors. And I love working in Cairo because it’s an endlessly fascinating place to be.

What are your favorite things to do in Cairo?

I love Ibn Tulun and wandering around downtown and the City of the Dead when the weather is nice; coffee at Fishawi in Khan al-Khalili and mezze at Estoril with friends; and strolling along the Nile near Maadi.

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