Kuwait Mourns Loss of Novelist Ismail Fahd Ismail, 78

The great novelist Ismail Fahd Ismail (1940-2018) died Tuesday. He was 78:

Ismail was one of the foundational figures in the development of the twentieth-century Kuwaiti novel, sometimes called “the father of the Kuwaiti novel,” he also continued to innovate and to speak out against censorship up until his death.

As Kuwaiti novelist Laila Othman said at an event in 2014, “Ismail’s novels have substantially added to the Arab cultural heritage” as he “tackles sensitive issues” with artistic sensitivity.

Many writers and readers mourned him online:

Ismail’s most recent novel, Al-Sabiliatwas shortlisted for the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), and is being translated by IPAF judge Sophia Vasalou, who said she “left her heart” with the book. It’s set to be published by Interlink. Ismail had also been longlisted for the IPAF in 2014 for his important novel The Phoenix and the Faithful Friendwhich centered around Kuwait’s stateless people.

Ismail was born in the village of al-Sabiliat near Basra, Iraq, in 1940, and grew up between Kuwait and Iraq. He studied theatre, and began writing short stories in the 1960s, publishing his first collection, The Dark Patch, in 1965.

His first novel, The Sky was Blue, appeared in 1970, and he went on to publish twenty-six more,  as well as two more short-story collections, two plays, and several critical studies. Just as importantly, he also supported younger writers, and his support for new creative talent was widely felt.

Ismail received a number of literary awards, including the State Encouragement Award in the novel in 1989, and the 2014-15 Sultan Bin Ali Al Owais Cultural Award.

You can read Ismail’s work in English translation in issue 47 of Banipal.