Abdellatif Laâbi

Abdellatif Laâbi was born in Fez, Morocco in 1942. He grew up speaking Arabic and at school learned the language of the French colonialist rulers, from whom the country gained its independence in 1956. He then studied Romance language and literature in Rabat, where he later worked as a French teacher and took an active part in the political as well as literary shaping of the recently regained national freedom.

Already as a student he was co-founder of a university theatre and he later joined various left-wing parties. Above all, Laâbi is known for co-founding the cultural and political journal »Souffles« in 1966. Through its strong renunciation of all ideological dogmas and established literary forms, it paved the way for new influences and lent a voice to young writers such as Abdelkebir Khatibi, Tahar Ben Jelloun and Rachid Boudjedra. As a forum for cultural revival within the Arabic realm »Souffles« found a readership beyond the borders of its country and influenced a whole generation of writers, artists and intellectuals. Following the publication of the first twenty-two editions in French and bilingually, the newspaper was published under the name »Anfas« and featured texts only in Arabic. It was banned in 1972 and Laâbi, due to his political stance, was imprisoned, tortured and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Even during this time he published »L’arbre de fer fleurit« (1974; t: The iron tree blooms) and »Le Règne de barbarie« (1976; t: The cruel rule), poems he smuggled out from the jail in Kénitra. In 1978 a selection of letters written in prison, »Chroniques de la citadelle d’exil« (t: Chronicles of the citadel of exile; an extended version appeared in 1983), was published. After eight years Laâbi was finally released thanks to international protests. His early years of freedom are described in the novel »Le Chemin des ordalies« (1982; t: The road of ordeals). Laâbi has been living in France since 1985, working as a freelance writer and translator. He has written a number of collections of poems as well as several novels, plays and books for young readers. Works translated into German include the collection of poems »Die Sonne stirbt« (2000; »Le Soleil se meurt«, 1992) and »Die Umarmung der Welt« (2002; »L’Etreinte du monde«, 1993 and »Le Spleen de Casablanca«, 1996), poetry that is unpretentious, rhymeless and rich in imagery, whose softness and irony resolutely defend the dream of human dignity against barbaric forces.

Laâbi was made Commandeur of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1985. He is a member of the Académie Mallarmé and has a seat on the board of the Maison des écrivains. Among his many awards are the Prix de la liberté of French PEN, the Fonlon Nichols Prize of the African Literature Association, the Prix de poésie Wallonie-Bruxelles, the Prix Albert Droin of the Société des gens de lettres de France and the Prix de l’Afrique méditerranéenne de l’ADELF. Laâbi lives in Créteil, near Paris.

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