Faraj Bayraqdar was born in 1951 in Tir, a village near Homs in central Syria. He began publishing poetry while still in high school. At the University of Damascus, he and a group of friends started a literary journal, but certain texts published in it led to his arrest and imprisonment for three months. His first collection, You Are Not Alone, came out in 1979 and was quickly followed by two more. He stopped writing in the early 1980s due to commitments in the Syrian Communist Labor Party; his wife, also a party member, was arrested and spent four years in prison. In 1987, Bayraqdar was arrested again and remained in prison without trial until 1993, when he was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor for belonging to an unauthorized political association. His imprisonment lasted more than thirteen years, in three different prisons (the Palestine Division, Tadmor, and Saydnaya). Without his knowledge, a group of friends in Beirut published Dove in Free Flight, a collection of his poems that was used, Elias Khoury writes, as "one of the instruments of pressure on the Syrian authorities to mobilize international, intellectual opinion, particularly in France, in order to set the poet free." After an international campaign was mounted on his behalf, Bayraqdar was released from prison during the brief political respite known as "Damascus Spring" in 2000.
The New York Translation Collective is a loosely based group whose members include Ammiel Alcalay, Sinan Antoon, Rebecca Carol Johnson, Elias Khoury, Tsolin Nalbantian, Jeffrey Sacks, and Shareah Taleghani for this project. The goal of the Collective is to create a network that can come together on joint projects while developing a new approach to the translation of Arabic texts, emphasizing works that challenge writers in the United States. A volume of Faraj Bayrakdar's poetry, translated by the Collective, will be published by Beyond Baroque Press in Los Angeles in the Fall-Winter 2005-6 season.