A seminar and a festival — in Dubai and in Cairo — are celebrating the life of “the Dean of Arabic Literature,” Taha Hussein. The great author died forty years ago this week:
In Dubai, the Owais Cultural Foundation is organizing an extended seminar on Taha Hussain’s life and work next Sunday and Monday, Nov. 3 and 4. Egyptian scholar and short-lived Culture Minister Gaber Asfour, among others, is set to participate.
In Cairo, the National Centre for Children’s Culture and the Taha Hussein Museum launched a four-day artistic program for children to celebrate the author. Events kicked off on Oct 28, the 40th anniversary of Hussein’s death. The events will take place at the museum, which is at 11 Taha Hussein St, off Haram St. in Giza.
Hussein is best-known for his novel The Nightingale’s Prayer, which became a celebrated film, and for his autobiogaphy, The Days. The autobiography was originally serialized in Hilal and then published as a three-part book. The Days — a landmark of Arabic autobiographical writing — is available in English as a single volume, trans. E.H. Paxton, Hilary Wayment, and Kenneth Cragg.
But if you’re looking for a way to celebrate the great man, his page-turning The Nightingale’s Prayer — trans. A.B. As-Safi and published by Palm Press in 1997 — very much needs a re-translation and re-publication.
I recently ran across this note about Helen Keller’s visit to Egypt in 1952. She wrote of Taha Hussein:
For years I had read about Taha Hussein Pasha, and I cannot express my delight one day when he visited me at the Semiramis Hotel, bringing his wife and son, and stayed a whole hour. I was privileged to touch his face, and how handsome, scholarly and full of inward light it was! His responsive tenderness warmed my heart, and I felt as if I had known him always. We discussed many topics — Homer, Aeschylus, Euripides, Plato and Socrates, the liberating power of philosophy, Taha Hussein’s studies of the great blind Arab philosopher of the tenth century [al-Maari] and his work for the blind.