40 Years Gone: The Literary and Social Legacy of Taha Hussein

This is the third and final day of events commemorating the 40th anniversary of Taha Hussein’s passing at Cairo’s Taha Hussein Museum:

200px-TahaHusseinThe author, sometimes called the “Dean of Arabic Literature,” died on October 28, 1973.

Since the official list of Nobel nominations aren’t opened until 50 years after they’re made, Hussein is the only Arabic writer officially known to have been in Nobel consideration, outside of 1988 winner Naguib Mahfouz.

Hussein has several works that continue to be read and loved forty years after his death. These include the novel The Curlew’s Prayerwhich was turned into a celebrated film; his controversial autobiogaphy, The Days; and his also controversial On Pre-Islamic Poetry. There have been several attempts to remove The Days from the Egyptian school curriculum; according to some it tarnishes Al Azhar’s image.

The Days was originally serialized in Hilal and then published as a three-part book. Unlike Hussein’s novels, The Days — a landmark of Arabic autobiographical writing — is available in English. It was published as a single volume, translated byE.H. Paxton, Hilary Wayment, and Kenneth Cragg.

This month, the Egyptian General Book Authority published an English version of  Hussein’s The Fulfilled Promise, translated by Dr. Mohammad Enani, although it wasn’t clear whether the book would be distributed beyond GEBO’s official shops and book-fair stand.

Hussein’s legacy includes scholarship, literature, politics, and advocacy for the blind. Hussein los his eyesight at the age of three, but went on to earn his PhD in 1914 with a focus on the poetry of the also-blind al-Maari. He worked as a professor of Arabic literature and was later Egypt’s Minister of Education.

Helen Keller wrote of visiting Hussein in Egypt in 1952:

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.

The museum in his name is at 11 Taha Hussein St, off Haram St. in Giza. According to Al Ahram, the Taha Hussein days will be an annual event.