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Margaret Obank was born in Leeds, UK. She has a BA Hons in Philosophy and English Literature (Leeds) and an MA in Applied Linguistics (Birkbeck College, University of London). She was a language teacher in Bradford and lecturer in London Further Education Colleges, and spent many years in printing and publishing, starting at the Africa Publications Trust and the Africa Bureau. In April 1992, after the Gulf War, she organised a festival of Iraqi culture "Out of Iraq" in London to celebrate the contemporary artistic and literary richness of the cradle of civilisation that was Iraq.
She is co-founder of Banipal magazine of modern Arab literature in English translation, and co-editor of A Crack in the Wall (Saqi Books, 2000), both with her husband the Iraqi author and journalist Samuel Shimon. In 2004 and 2006 she put on two Banipal Live UK tours of Arab authors. She established The Banipal Trust for Arab Literature, which in 2005 set up the annual Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation (inaugural award 2006) and, in January 2010, the Banipal – Arab British Centre Library of Modern Arab Literature in original English and English translation, with the lending library housed at the Arab British Centre. Her book publishing enterprise, Banipal Books, founded in 2005, has published works by contemporary Arab authors in translation.
She is a founding trustee of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and was a member of the Outreach Committee of the Centre for Advanced Study of the Arab World, a joint project between the universities of Edinburgh, Durham and Manchester in the UK.
In 2012 she was decorated by Moulay Rashid of Morocco with the honorary order of Wissam Alaouite for services to Moroccan literature.