Palestinian poet and memoirist Fadwa Tuqan (1917-2003) — whose acclaimed autobiography, A Mountainous Journey, was translated to English by Olive E. Kenny and Naomi Shihab Nye — was born on this day in 1917:
Abbas Beydoun called Fadwa Tuqan the “youth of Arab poetry, the orphan of Arab poetry, the Electra of Arab poetry.” Salma Jayyusi called her “a mistress of two gifts: love and pain.” Mahmoud Darwish the “mother of Palestinian poetry.”
Tuqan was born in Nablus to a conservative but literary family. She studied English literature at Oxford and went on to win acclaim and literary prizes for her poetry, in Arabic and in translation. Although she signed some of her poems using the pen name Dananeer (Dinars) and others using Al-Motawaqa (The Encircled), her own name came to be widely known.
Like al-Khansa, Tuqan was often described as a poet of elegy, since her brother Ibrahim Tuqan — a poet, playwright and Radio Palestine director — was well-known when he died in 1941. She was only 24, and her first collection was titled My Brother Ibrahim (1946). Another of her brothers, Namr, died in a plane crash in 1963, which also marked her greatly. These losses were interwoven with communal ones, in 1948 and 1967. The politics of her poetry included a critique of gender dynamics, as she also wrote about and through her “clash with the hyper-masculinity of society in Nablus.”
Yet Tuqan was also deeply engaged in the craft poetry during a time of shifting forms, in conversation with Jayyusi, Nazik al-Mala’ika, Adonis, Muhammad al-Maghut, and others. As she wrote in her prose memoir, A Mountainous Journey, “Poetry continues to be distinct from prose and there is nothing more charming than musical durations as they echo within lines of differing length, and nothing more beautiful than rhymes alternating in a free verse poem, sometimes appearing distinctly, and sometimes disappearing.”
There are at least two collections of Tuqan’s poems in English translation, although both of these are out of print.
“Face Lost in the Wilderness,” From Modem Palestinian Poetry, translated by Patricia Alanah Byrne with the help of the editor [Salma Khadra Jayyusi], and Naomi Shihab Nye.
“Hamza,” translated by Azfar Hussain
“A Life,” translated by Azfar Hussain
“The Deluge and the Tree,” translated by Naomi Shihab Nye with the help of Salma Khadra Jayyusi
“Existence,” translated by Michael R Burch
“And Nothing Remains,” translated by Franklin Huntington
“I Found It,” translated by Franklin Huntington
“My Sad City,” translated by Franklin Huntington
“Existence,” translated by Franklin Huntington