NEW FACES Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

There have been a host of new volunteer recruits recently across SCBWI British Isles. This week, we welcome our new Words & Pics Translation Editor, Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp.

Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

Thanks for the warm welcome! I’m here to keep our Translator members represented at SCBWI British Isles, honoured to be taking over the Translation column slot from Julie Sullivan. Thanks Julie for all the inspiring interviews over the years!

Translators are gradually becoming more visible in the publishing world thanks to campaigns like #NameTheTranslator and #TranslatorsOnTheCover, but at SCWBI you’d be forgiven for not knowing that we’re here. We come under the W of SCBWI, as translators are writers (and many other things besides) … and anyway, I’m not sure ‘scb-wit’ would be as catchy as ‘scoobie’!

I’ve been translating books of all kinds since my children were babies, and from the very first networking events I went to I found the children’s publishing world so much warmer and more welcoming than the adult side. So it’s quickly become my main focus although I make more of my income translating adult novels and non-fiction. Most of all I love the variety. And the excitement of seeing one of my translations in the library or a bookshop.

Seeing one of her translations in a bookshop or library is a highlight of the job for Ruth

My work takes me around the world through my laptop. I translate into English from German, Russian and Arabic, and I co-translate Ukrainian with colleagues, so this brings me into regular contact with writers, agents and publishers from over 40 countries!

Then there’s all the research for translations that takes me down google image rabbit holes, like researching iconic bridges around the world for a book about how bridges work, the architecture and alleyways of Leningrad for a middle grade novel set in the creepy shadow of Stalin and the Soviet police state (which I talked about last time I was on SCBWI blog), and the streets of Nablus in the West Bank for Trees for the Absentees, a lyrical YA novella about a Palestinian teen navigating life after her father’s arrest and her grandmother’s death.

I supposedly have a desk in the office I share with my husband, but since I started suffering from RSI I found the best place for me to work is actually on the floor at the coffee table in the living room. It doesn’t sound very professional but it works for me! Not that I’m sitting for long each day - translating is intense and I only manage a couple of hours most days before I need to switch tasks. Which is probably why I’ve found myself with about 5 other day jobs to keep my head spinning.

I teach Arabic at a local school, mark exam papers, I review books and advise on international children’s literature, including for initiatives like Cheltenham Literature Festivals Reading Teachers Reading Pupils and magazines like Words Without Borders.

In her spare time Ruth loves stomping up Cotswold Way

I’m project manager at World Kid Lit, where we aim to improve young people’s access to diverse, inclusive, global literature including bringing translated books, and an awareness of translation and translators, into primary and secondary schools. We run #WorldKidLitMonth on social media in September, but also throughout the year we generally evangelize about giving young people the chance to see their cultural heritage and languages reflected in the books they read … and opening all young people’s horizons to stories, poetry and graphic novels from other countries and cultures.

I also run translation workshops in schools, often working with a brilliant Oxford-based charity called the Stephen Spender Trust. Earlier this month it was all about putting the ‘world’ in #WorldBookDay, and I ran a day of workshops based on an Arabic picture book by Syrian author-illustrator Nadine Kaadan about a deaf Rapunzel, for every year group in the school from Reception to year 6! It was really fun to share the story in three languages - Arabic, English, and a little BSL. We had the younger ones drawing and trying out Arabic letters, and the older ones doing codebreaking and creative writing to tell the story - resulting in a collaborative class translation of the story to read together. I also run a workshop about translating Russian braille into English braille. I figure, why explore just one new language when you could explore two at the same time?!

Ruth plays the repique drum in a local samba band

When I’m not translating, reading or visiting schools, I love swimming, having a stomp up the hill to see the amazing view from the Cotswold Way, or learning to play the repique drum in our community samba band, Olá Samba.If you’re out and about in the summer in Gloucestershire, you’ll hear us - we’re very loud!

*Header by Tita Berredo


Stephanie Cotela is the Network News & Events Editor for Words & Pictures Magazine.

Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter or
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1 comment:

  1. Nissa Van Riper1 April 2024 at 11:02

    Ruth, how do you do it all??? Your language skills are a super-power. We are lucky to have you. I hope you enjoy your time as W&P Translation Editor. xx


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