A look back at a few authors, screenwriters, and publishers who left us in 2020:
Lina Ben Mhenni (1983-2020)
Tunisian author and activist Lina Ben Mhenni, who the week before her death appeared at the Arab Woman Literature Festival in Tunis, died after a long struggle with lupus. She wrote up until the very end — about her illness, about Baghdad, about Tunisian politics and civic memory — publishing her final post on the popular “A Tunisian Girl” blog Sunday.
Lenin El-Ramly (1945-2020)
Acclaimed Egyptian playwright Lenin El-Ramly, known for his biting political satires, died at 75. One of his best-known theatrical works was the satiric play In Plain Arabic, staged to popular and critical acclaim in the early 1990s. It won several awards, and was translated to English by Esmat Allouba and published by AUC Press in 1994. There were only a handful of Arabic plays published in English translation in the 1990s, but three by El-Ramly appeared: In Plain Arabic, Point of View (tr. Yussif Hifnawi), and The Nightmare (tr. Wagdi Zeid).
Gamil Attia Ibrahim (1937-2020)
Egyptian journalist and novelist Gamil Attia Ibrahim died in Switzerland. Author of some dozen novels, his 1952 was among his most well-known, tracing mid-twentieth-century transformations in Egyptian society. His acclaimed 1986 novel Down to the Sea was re-issued by Dar al-Karma in 2014.
Mido Zoheir (1974-2020)
Acclaimed poet and lyricist Mido Zoheir died of a heart attack. Zoheir was widely beloved, and readers crowded into the Cairo International Book Fair to get copies of his popular poetry collection, Ho’net Hawa (Air Syringe).
Albert Memmi (1920-2020)
Tunisian novelist and essayist Albert Memmi died in Paris at age 99. Memmi was born nearly a century ago, in December of 1920, in Tunisia’s Jewish quarter. He published his genre-spanning semi-autobiographical first novel, La Statue de sel (The Pillar of Salt) in 1953, for which he received the Prix de Carthage and the Prix Fénéon. It was later translated to a beautiful English by Edouard Roditi.
Salah Stétié (1929-2020)
The Lebanese poet, essayist, art critic, and diplomat Salah Stétié died in Paris. He published at least forty books, and was awarded Le Grand Prix de la Francophonie de l’Académie Française en 1995.
Riad Ismat (1947-2020)
Syrian playwright Riad Ismat died in May of 2020 after contracting COVID-19 in Chicago, where he was part of Northwestern’s “Scholars at Risk” program. Ismat was a playwright, director, and theatre critic, in addition to being an instructor, a diplomat, and Syria’s Minister of Culture (2010-12) before he fled first to Paris, then the United States.
Thani Al-Suwaidi (1966-2020)
Emirati poet and novelist Thani Al-Suwaidi, one of the most prominent Emirati literary artists, died in Cairo at age 54. An acclaimed poet, he was best-known for his novella, al-Dizil (The Diesel), which was published in 1994 in Beirut, reprinted in Baghdad in 2006 and in Cairo in 2008. The English translation, by William Hutchins, appeared in 2012. The Diesel is a coming-of-age story of a gender nonbinary character (named Diesel) who performs as a singer and dancer, has relationships with both women and men, and finds space as a performer.
Elias Farkouh (1948-2020)
Jordanian author Elias Farkouh died on July 15, after an acute heart attack. His novel Columns of Foam, which was first published in 1987, was perhaps his best-known; it won a State Encouragement Award and was named by the Arab Writers’ Union as one of the “best hundred novels of the twentieth century.” His The Land of Purgatory was among the six finalists for the 2008 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and his Drowned in Mirrors (2012) was named to the ArabLit authors’ favorites list in 2013.
Abdel Wahab Yousif
Young Sudanese poet Abdel Wahab Yousif, better known as Latinos, died when a rubber boat packed with African immigrants sank into the sea shortly after setting off from Libya on its way to Europe.
Kamel Zoghbani (1965-2020)
Tunisian writer and philosopher Kamel Zoghbani died on September 14 after a sudden heart attack. He was 55.
Riyad al-Rayyis (1937-2020)
Publisher and author Riyad al-Rayyis, who founded his famous publishing house in London in 1986 and moved it to Beirut in the early 1990s, died at 83. He was son of the late journalist and politician Najib al-Rayyis (1898-1952).
Refaat Sallam (1951-2020)
Egyptian poet and translator Refaat Sallam died on December 6 at the age of 69. In addition to publishing his own poetry, Sallam translated Charles Baudelaire, Constantine Cavafy, Walt Whitman, and Arthur Rimbaud.
Nabil Farouk (1956-2020)
Egyptian popular and sci-fi novelist Nabil Farouk, whose books were beloved by teens, died on December 9 at age 64.
Egyptian novelist Bahaa Abdelmegid died after posting a photo of himself on oxygen, struggling with Covid-19. He was a kind, gentle author and scholar of English poetry. He had three works translated to English, two by Chip Rossetti (Sleeping with Strangers and St. Theresa) and one by Jonathan Wright (Temple Bar).
Dr. Emil Homerin (1955-2020)
Scholar and translator Dr. Emil Homerin was editor-translator of The Principles of Sufism, by ‘A’ishah al-Ba’uniyyah, who is perhaps the most prolific and prominent woman who wrote in Arabic prior to the modern period.
Hatem Ali (1962-2020)
Syrian actor, director, author, and screenwriter Hatem Ali died of a heart attack on December 29. He was in Cairo.