Vénus Khoury-Ghata
(Lebanon, 1937)   

Vénus Khoury-Ghata was born in the Lebanese mountain village of Bsherre, also the birthplace of Khalil Gibran. She was taught Arabic by her mother, an illiterate woman with an intense feeling for the ‘silent forces’ in everyday life. Her father, a Christian theologian who had worked as a French-Arabic interpreter, instilled in her a love for the French language and the world of biblical symbolism.

Village life and the natural setting of Bsherre continues to pervade her poetry. As a girl she used to keep an imaginary diary, daydreaming about a life of luxury. Her dream came true when, eighteen years old, she was elected Miss Beirut and through marriage gained acces to the city’s fashionable circles. Eventually, however, Vénus Khoury tired of her life of glamour and distraction, and turned to poetry, the inner source of her true life. Her debut publication in 1966 was the start of an oeuvre which in sensuality and lyrical scope owed more to the Arabic than the French tradition. In 1972, after her second marriage, to the French physician Jean Ghata, she moved to Paris. The theme of death, so prominent in her work, was almost forced upon her, first by Lebanon’s civil war, at its worst in 1975-1976, then by her husband’s illness and death in 1981. In those difficult years of double bereavement she wrote only prose. It was not until 1987 that a new volume of poetry appeared, Monologue du mort (‘The Dead Man’s Monologue’), in which she builds a bridge of words to the realm of the dead.

Vénus Khoury-Ghata won many awards for her work. They include the Prix Supervielle for Anthologie personnelle, an anthology from her poetry compiled by herself. As a novelist she won international fame in the 1990s with Les fiancés du Cape Ténès, (1996).

© Jan H. Mysjkin (Translated by Ko Kooman)

[Vénus Khoury-Ghata took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2001. This text was written on that occasion.]


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