Fadhil Al-Azzawi was born in 1940 in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. He studied English literature at the University of Baghdad and in the 1960s was one of the founders of an avant-garde poetry group dedicated to renewing Iraqi literature in the spirit of modernism which published a manifesto demanding literary independence from any political influence. This brought him into conflict with the repressive political regime of the Baath party, which moved him to contemplate going into exile in England. But when he was unable to move to his original destination, in 1977 he emigrated to Leipzig in the GDR through an exchange programme of the journalists’ association. There he did a doctorate in journalism and became the victim of political chicanery once again. Under observation by Iraqi secret service infiltrators, he was threatened with expulsion several times.
In the Arabic world, Al-Azzawi has been celebrated as one of the most important authors of his generation since the very beginning of his career. In Germany, however, he remains relatively unknown. Al-Azzawi’s oeuvre comprises numerous collections of poems and seven novels as well as a collection of short stories, works of literary criticism and numerous important translations from English and German. Among other works, he has translated the poetry of Christian Morgenstern and texts by Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Tilman Spengler. He is perhaps best-known in this regard for his translation of Robert Musil’s monumental »The Man Without Qualities« into Arabic. Many of his most important works are available in English: The »Miracle Maker« (2003) collection presents poems from six collections and gives an overview of his poetological, humorous and yet melancholy preoccupation with eastern and western mythologies. His renown grew considerably in the US with the recent re-release of »Akhir al-mala’ika« (1992; Eng. »The Last of the Angels«, 2007), in which he envisions a picaresque unto apocalyptic panorama of his home city of Kirkuk during a strike in the 1950s. His early work »Al-Qal’a al-khamisa« (1972; Eng. »Cell Block Five«, 2008), which was later filmed in Syria, is regarded as the first Iraqi prison novel and has remained a compelling depiction of political oppression to this day. Written in 1976 but only published in 1989, the novel »Madina min Ramad« has recently been released in English as »The Traveller and the Innkeeper« (2011), and tells a love story against the backdrop of the Six-Day War.
Fadhil Al-Azzawi also works as an editor for the London-based magazine »Banipal« founded by Margaret Obank and Samuel Shimon. He lives in Berlin.