Darwish, Mahmud 1941-2008 (Mahmoud Darweesh, Mahmoud Darwish)

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Darwish, Mahmud 1941-2008 (Mahmoud Darweesh, Mahmoud Darwish)


See index for CA sketch: Born March 13, 1941, in al-Birwa, Palestine (now Israel); died of complications from heart surgery), August 9, 2008, in Houston, TX. Poet, journalist, editor, and author. Darwish was revered as the unofficial poet laureate of the Palestinian community. He was born in Palestine before it was transformed into Israel. The transition took place before he was ten years old, but he never forgot the wrenching flight from his homeland or the traumatic return to a homestead literally replaced by an Israeli settlement in a land where he would forever afterward be, and feel like, an outsider. Darwish's early poetry, written in anger and sadness when he was a schoolboy, could have cost his father his job. His later poetry, written after he joined the Communist Party in 1961, was even more overtly political and angry, leading to several periods of house arrest and ultimately to a second exile. Darwish wandered throughout the Arab world for many years, punctuated by a period of study in Moscow in 1970. He worked as a journalist in many countries, including Lebanon. There he joined the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and later became a member of the movement's executive committee. In 1982 an Israeli incursion into Lebanon prompted Darwish's next flight, this time to Paris, where he edited the Arabic literary journal Al-Karmel. Believing that unity was a key to coexistence, he published Arab and Israeli poets side by side. In 1993 Darwish resigned from the PLO in protest over the organization's approval of policies which he considered harmful to Palestinian interests, and in 1995 he was allowed to return to Israel. He settled in Ramallah, the unofficial Palestinian capital. Darwish's poetry has received much critical attention, not all of it comforting to the poet himself. He insisted that he never intended the intense symbolism that many critics ascribed to it, and he reportedly wanted to be noticed less for the political content of his work and more for its lyric beauty. His later work reflected these gentler aspirations, to the dismay of some supporters who revered him as the poet of the resistance, but Darwish remained the best-selling poet of the contemporary Arab world. Darwish promoted a message of peace, understanding, and tolerance. He decried violence and terrorism, especially after September 2001, and he mourned the sectarian conflicts within the Palestinian community. Darwish won many international awards, including the Lotus Prize of the Union of Afro-Asian Writers in 1969, the Lenin Peace Prize in 1983, the Lannen Foundation Prize for Cultural Freedom in 2001, and the Sultan bin Ali al Owais Cultural Award in 2004. His writings were translated into more than twenty languages, but the bulk of it, more than sixty volumes over more than thirty years, remained inaccessible to English-speaking readers. Exceptions include Splinters of Bone (1974), The Music of Human Flesh (1980), Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982 (1995), The Adam of Two Edens (2000), and Unfortunately, It Was Paradise (2003).



Los Angeles Times, August 10, 2008, p. B11.

New York Times, August 11, 2008, p. A19.

Times (London, England), August 14, 2008, p. 56.

Washington Post, August 13, 2008, p. B6.