Online | Translation | Workshop

1-Day Online Translation Workshop: Translating Humor in Contemporary Arabic Literature

Humor is one of the most difficult concepts for any writer or translator to engage with, and yet undoubtedly the most rewarding when it’s done right. This course encourages you to translate humor from a range of genres in contemporary Arabic literature: memoir, graphic novel, short stories, and young adult literature from across the Arabic speaking world such as Libya, Lebanon, Mauritania and Palestine. The framework of the course is based on Arthur Asa Berger’s classification of humor, which groups over forty techniques into categories such as Identity, Language, and Logic. This framework will be explained in the class, and a brief reading on it will also be provided prior to the workshop.

If you’re a translator working from any language into English, you will be able to apply the techniques learnt to your own craft. If you are a writer seeking some inspiration from other literatures, this class is also a great fit for you.

Bridge translations (literal translations from a foreign language into English that keep the original word order, punctuation, and multiple meanings of the original language) as well as the Arabic originals for each exercise will be provided, so it’s up to you if you’d like to practice your Arabic reading skills when decoding a joke, or work entirely relying on the provided English. The choice is yours!

Outside of a short reading, there is no homework for this course; students should come to class prepared to do group-work and in-class writing and translating activities.

*If you’re enrolling in two or more Don’t Translate Alone classes, email us at [email protected] and we’ll send you a coupon for 15% off each DTA class!

Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features.


- Confidence in identifying different types of humor in contemporary Arabic texts

- Apply techniques learned in class to translated works in any genre

- Ability to pinpoint what makes a humorous text funny

- Experience of translating Arabic humorous texts into English

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Before class: Students should read the Berger framework (a few pages that will be provided) to understand how we will identify and categorize humor

During class: Lots of groupwork and pairwork. Come prepared to talk (and laugh!)

Sawad Hussain

Sawad Hussain is an Arabic translator and litterateur who is passionate about bringing narratives from the African continent to wider audiences. She was co-editor of the Arabic-English portion of the award-winning Oxford Arabic Dictionary (2014). Her work has been recognised by English PEN, the Anglo-Omani Society and the Palestine Book Awards. She has run workshops with Shadow Heroes, Africa Writes and Shubbak Festival. She has forthcoming translations from Fitzcarraldo Editions and MacLehose Press. She holds an MA in Modern Arabic Literature from SOAS. Her Twitter handle is @sawadhussain.


“Sawad is bright, full of positive energy, and someone who really knows how to motivate people and get the best out of them.”

Wei Ting

“Sawad is a clear-eyed editor and a cheering, encouraging presence in workshops, who always gives insightful comments in a constructive, intelligent, and empathetic manner. I love workshopping with her and I’m sure any translator or writer would benefit from her expertise and light.”

former student

“...a seamless text ..”

Kirkus Star review for Ghady and Rawan

“Yet translator Sawad Hussain has succeeded in bringing this beautiful, affecting novel to an English-reading audience and has captured clearly the emotional, political and aesthetic concerns preoccupying the book.”

NPR review for Mama Hissa’s Mice

“It is a delight to read this fast-paced, theatrical, witty novel in English translation while the original is marking its 30th anniversary.”

Qantara review for Passage to the Plaza

‘We chose Sawad Hussain's fine translation of "Run, George!" as the lead story of our October 2019 Arab Humor issue. Najwa Bin Shatwan's satirical tale of a corpse fleeing his bombed-out grave and attempting to find safety in the Muslim cemetery demonstrates her gift for dark humor and the absurd. Beneath the comedy, however, lies the sober truth of Libya's embattled history.’ "

Susan Harris Editorial Director, Words Without Borders

“The pacing of the story is perfect and hardly a word goes spare”

Adam Talib Arablit Story Prize judge commentary on winning story, 2019