Indecency and Influence on December 11, Naguib Mahfouz Day

On December 11, 1911, novelist Naguib Mahfouz (d. 2006) entered our world:

It was nineteen or twenty years later that Mahfouz began to catch the notice of other writers. And it was another decade and a half after that the master hit his stride with his chosen craft: fiction. Nonetheless, even though Mahfouz himself didn’t think much of birthdays, today is a day on which to peg our hats; to look back on his contribution to literatures.

Tomorrow, the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature will be given.

Most recently — less than a month ago, in late November — Mahfouz made news when crank MP Abul Maaty Mustafa said, at a parliamentary debate, that “Naguib Mahfouz deserves punishment” for “violating public decency.” After some pushback, Mustafa suggested that what he really meant was the films made from Mahfouz’s novels were indecent.

Also in November, Newsweek ME visited Cafe Riche, where Mahfouz once gathered with other writers and thinkers, and where his portrait still hangs.

Collage by Zeinobia.
Collage by Zeinobia.

In October, illustrator Gamal Qotb died; Qotb was most well-known for his illustrations on the jackets of, and inside, Mahfouz novels.

Hilal Chouman, whose Limbo Beirut was published in English translation this summer, talked about how — in experimenting with artistic “translations” inside his book — he was influenced by Mahfouz’s novels: “If you remember Naguib Mahfouz books that have Gamal Qotb covers, where you have one illustration with a quote – that was my starting point. But I wanted to take it further.”

September marked 10 years since the master’s death in 2006, which was cause for reflection on his works. Ahram Online talked with three young writers — Muhammad Abdelnaby, Mohammed Sayed Abdel-Rehim, and Ahmed Shawqi Ali  — about Mahfouz’s influence on their work.

Shawqi Ali looked beyond Mahfouz’s most famous works, observing that “Despite his strictness he created three of the most experimental works in Arabic literature: Morning and Evening Talk, Dreams of the Rehabilitation Period and Echoes of a Biography.”


Mahfouz’s work — much to Mustafa’s chagrin, probably — continues to be turned into new work on-screen, and this summer, an excellent new series was made of Mahfouz’s Wedding Song, aired during Ramadan.

In January of this year, a new Naguib Mahfouz Readeredited by the pioneer of modern Arabic literary translation Denys Johnson-Davies, was published by AUC Press.

And from past years:


His Nobel lecture

Excerpt from The Thief and the Dogs


William Hutchins on Translating Naguib Mahfouz’s ‘Trilogy’ and ‘Cairo Modern’

5 Questions with Catherine Cobham on Translation Mahfouz’s ‘Harafish’


Margaret Litvin: Meeting Mahfouz: An Evening at the Nadwa

How I Met Mahfouz: Amira Nowaira on Growing Up with the Trilogy

How I Met Mahfouz: Down ‘Midaq Alley’ in ’77

Gada Mahfud Dhiem: How I Met Naguib Mahfouz: ‘He’s Always Been in My Life’

Naila Kelani: ‘How I Met Mahfouz’ and Found the Doorway to (Real) Arab Lit


Mohamed Salmawy: Memories of Naguib Mahfouz and the Movies

From AUC Press: Faten Mahfouz speaks about her Nobel laureate father


From Columbia University