Snapshots from a Life: Egyptian Novelist Radwa Ashour, 1946-2014

Photos and quotes from Egyptian novelist Radwa Ashour (1946-2014):

Ashour and Barghouti, via Mansoura Ezz Eldin
Ashour and her husband Mourid Barghouti, posted to Facebook by Barghouti.

On her husband, Palestinian poet and memoirist Mourid Barghouti, from Spectres, trans. Barbara Romaine: “Seven years after his deportation, Mourid would be able to return to our house in Cairo, not to live with us, but for short visits, determined each by a prior permit granted by the authorities in charge of security. Upon his arrival at Cairo Airport, an airport official would stamp his passport and make a note upon it saying, ‘One week, non-renewable,’ or, ‘Two weeks only.’ We would meet him at the airport. See him off at the airport. Wait until we could go to him during our summer holiday, or petition once again in the hope that he might be permitted to visit us again. This situation lasted another ten years.”

Via Lobna Ismail
Via Lobna Ismail
Via Lobna Ismail.
Via Lobna Ismail.
At center. In Budapest in 1980, from Mohamed Medhat Mostafa.
At center. In Budapest in 1980, from Mohamed Medhat Mostafa.
A 1993 photo in Ashour's office at the Department of English at Ain Shams University. Via Lobna Ismail.
A 1993 photo in Ashour’s office at the Department of English at Ain Shams University. Via Lobna Ismail.

On teaching: “I joined the Ain Shams University faculty soon after I graduated in October 1967, and have never stopped teaching since, except for the nine months after I got married [1970], when I had to join my husband in Kuwait, but even then I worked as a school teacher. I like teaching, it’s the job I really enjoy, even though currently it puts pressure on me because I need the time for writing, but that’s the only kind of pressure it’s ever put on me. The only other job I might have enjoyed would’ve been a job that involves writing, like journalism, but I can’t imagine myself otherwise. I see myself in the eyes of the students. I feel their eyes are a mirror that comforts and reassures me. I feel there is a value there, the value of that contact, a contact with a life in process. It is actually a very complex experience, which I live moment by moment; no two lectures are alike.”

With her husband Mourid Barghouti and Moroccan poet Abdellatif Laâbi.
With her husband Mourid Barghouti and Moroccan poet Abdellatif Laâbi.

On writing and other writers“Then I went to a young writers’ conference in Zaqaziq in 1969. Looking around me, I saw Bahaa Taher, Yehia El-Taher Abdallah, Ibrahim Aslan, Abdel-Hakim Qasim, Amal Dunqul and others. Admittedly, they were all about a decade older, but each had something to show for himself, some form of evidence that he was really talented. And what had I written, apart from one short story that proved nothing? This scared me even more and I stopped writing. It wasn’t until 1980 that I finally made another attempt. I had health problems and underwent a serious operation, and I felt I might be dying, and suddenly I had this sensation of abrupt awakening: I’m dying to write, and perhaps I will die before I do, so let me write something, say a word or two in time, and it doesn’t matter whether or not I’ll manage to write what nobody else has written. So, based on my relatively recent experience in America I wrote The Journey, and as I did so, for the first time I was learning; nothing teaches you to write better than writing.”

With her son, the poet and political scientist Tamim Barghouti and husband Mourid.
With her son, the poet and political scientist Tamim Barghouti and husband Mourid. Posted to Facebook by Mourid Barghouti.
Again, with Tamim and Mourid.
Again, with Tamim and Mourid.

On her son, Tamim Barghouti, from Spectres: “I would call Tamim for lunch or dinner, or Mourid would call him: sometimes ‘Tamim!’ but at others ‘Tamtam’ or ‘Tamatim’ (‘tomato’), which later evolved into ‘Tamatish,’ and subsequently ‘Mukarrar,’ or ‘Ma’quoud,’ after a visit to Algeria during which Mourid discovered that tomato sauce is known in Algerian dialect as ‘mukarrar ma’qoud al-tamatish.’ In this way the three words were used interchangeably as new names for Tamim. Mourid would shout at the top of his lungs, ‘Ma’qoud! Mukarrar!’ and Tamim’s voice would be heard beneath the window, ‘Yes, Papa!’ In a moment of anger or frustration, I might exclaim, ‘Ya zift!’ Tamim would answer, ‘Yes, Mama,’ and dash up the stairs, fearful all the way of some rebuke. He would ring the bell, and when I opened the door he would find us laughing. Suddenly grasping the absurdity of responding as he had to ‘You rubbish!’ as if it were yet another of his new names, he would join in the laughter.”

With novelist Ahdaf Soueif.
At the launch of The Woman of Tantoura, 2010.
At the launch of The Woman of Tantoura, 2010.

From The Woman from Tantoura, trans. Kay Heikkinen: “I was with the boys on the train and yet I wasn’t, because ever since that day when they loaded us into the truck and I saw my father and brothers on the pile, I have remained there, unmoving, even if it didn’t seem like it.”

Receiving the Owais Prize,  2011.
Receiving the Owais Prize, 2011.
Campaigning for the release of Alaa Abd El-Fattah.
Campaigning for the release of Alaa Abd El-Fattah.

On protest, from Heavier than Radwa, excerpt trans. Barbara Romaine: “No sooner had the wall been built than kids came with their buckets of paint and paintbrushes, and covered it with colorful artwork, along with whatever graffiti they cared to put there, sayings and slogans. Thus the wall was transformed by the gloriously colored images superimposed upon it, and by arresting murals such as might have pleased David Siqueiros and Diego Rivera, the great Mexican artists who painted murals and brought attention to the value of such expression, during the revolutionary period in their own country.

“The fact is that the kids made the best of a bad job when they took a wall–bleak, sand-colored, depressing, painful to contemplate–and turned it into an artistic monument, in brilliant colors that brought relief to the soul. This is not just because they proved that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction–meaning they could be reassured that the laws of nature continue unchanged, subject to the forces of no government, no Israel–but rather that, in offering artistic beauty that also served a purpose, they carried on in the spirit of those who had gone before them. Moreover, they balanced the timelessness of art with the paradoxical notion of timely advantage, and the possibility that the two may be interchangeable, according to circumstance and necessity.”

Signing "Heavier than Radwa," 2013.
Signing “Heavier than Radwa,” 2013.
At the conference celebrating her work, March 2014. Photo credit: Amira Abd El-Khalek.
At the conference celebrating her work, March 2014. Photo credit: Amira Abd El-Khalek.

On good-byes, from Spectres: “Her husband stands on one side of the divider, she stands with her son on the other. They call the passengers for boarding. Her husband holds out his hand to say goodbye, she clutches at his hand, beginning to weep. Weeping breaks into sobbing. Her husband entreats her to cancel her trip and go back home with him. ‘We can postpone the journey,’ he says. She shakes her head, dries her tears, and proceeds with her son onto the plane.”


  1. Dear Mourid and Tamim

    We are so sorry for the loss of Radwa. A truly magnificient woman has left the physical world.

    Yours sincerely Birgitte and Gete, Denmark

  2. This when words fail to express the deep sadness at the loss of a great writer and activist. Mourid and Tamim, may you find solace in your shared memories.
    Aida A. Bamia

  3. Goodbye beloved Radwa ! May you be blessed !

  4. What a lovely commemoration!

  5. Such an inspiring writer. Such an amazing woman. RIP, Radwa, you’ll be missed a lot.

  6. I am overcome with sorrow at the loss of Dr. Radwa. My condolences to the family.

  7. Dear Tamim and Mourid
    Even though the time in Aarhus at my hospital was short I enjoyed very much our mutual talks about life.
    My very best thoughts to you both.

  8. RIP from Nepal on the demise of Radwa. Had been greatly moved by the predicament faced by Mourid during the life of statelessness which he had so poignantly expressed in an obituary on the death of Palestine poet M Darwish. How might he be feeling at the very parting away from such a crusader and creative genius. Heartfelt condolence to Mourid and Tamim. Proud of this family of letters.

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