Tuqan, Fadwa (1917—)

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Tuqan, Fadwa (1917—)

Palestinian poet and feminist who is one of the Arab world's most distinguished poets. Born in 1917 in Nablus on the West Bank; studied with her brother, poet Ibrahim Tuqan.

Selected writings:

Wahdi m'a al-Ayyam (Alone with the Days, 1955); Amam al-Bab al-Mughlaq (Before the Closed Door, 1967); al-Layl Wa-al Fursan (Night and the Horsemen, 1969); Ala Qimmat al-Dunya Wahidan (Alone, at the Top of the World, 1973); Kabus al-Layl Wa al-Nahar (Nightmare in Daylight, 1974); (autobiography) A Mountainous Journey (trans. by Olive Kenny, 1990).

Fadwa Tuqan was born during 1917 in Nablus on the West Bank into a middle-class family of soap manufacturers. She grew up in a large house with an extended family that ran the business collectively. In her autobiography, she describes the oppressive atmosphere of her youth in a culture which regarded women so lightly that her mother could not remember exactly when Tuqan was born. Simultaneously protected and ruled by her male relatives, she lived in a high-walled house under the omnipresent scrutiny of her relatives.

When she was 13, an admiring young boy followed Fadwa home from school one day and sent her a jasmine flower. Fearing a threat to her purity, her family promptly removed her from school. Although her brother Ibrahim Tuqan, a poet, could not release her from the seclusion the family had imposed, he brought her books and read with her. She ultimately committed 2,000 lines of classical verse to memory. Later, after Ibrahim married, he brought Fadwa to Jerusalem to live with him and his wife. There, she met and corresponded with many other writers. She was particularly influenced by the romantic poets of the period, including Ali Mahmud Taha, author of Lost Sailor (1934) and Nights of the Lost Sailor (1940).

When Fadwa's brother died in 1941, she had to return to the stifling house of her family. Because Ibrahim had been a political poet, her father asked that she also write political poetry. But Fadwa felt that being curtailed behind walls allowed for limited involvement in politics (in her youth she had been forbidden to even read the newspapers), and she at first refused. Tuqan changed her mind, however, when political turmoil erupted in Palestine in 1948 and women were released from their isolation. Fadwa joined factional and literary movements, and from then on she infused her poetry with politics.

The poetry written in her youth reflects the breadth of her reading, which included the Qur'an, the Bible, and Western European literature (with which she developed a deep familiarity). Her collected work shows a steady progression from romantic, introspective poetry to dynamic, liberated prose about the political plight of the Palestinian people. Translated by Olive Kenny , her autobiography A Mountainous Journey provided the English-speaking world with a woman's perspective of Arab culture as well as a look at the life of one of the Arab world's most distinguished poets.


Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

Kelly Winters , freelance writer