Ahmed al-Shahawi
(Egypt, 1960)   

Ahmed al-Shahawi (1960) is one of Egypt’s most important poets today. He was born in the town of Damiette on the Mediterranean, where he spent the first five years of his life before moving to al-Mayasera, forty kilometers inland in the Nile delta. After finishing secondary school he returned to Damiette to study mathematics, but after one year exchanged this for Sohag, some 500 kilometers south of Cairo, where he graduated in journalism in 1983.

He began his journalistic career as cultural editor for the monthly magazine The Voice of Sohag, published by the students of journalism at Sohag University. After graduating he joined the prestigious Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram (The Pyramids) and in 1995 was appointed editorial secretary of the weekly Nisf al-dunya (Half the World), published by al-Ahram.
Ahmed al-Shahawi began his literary career with the publication of his collection Two Prosternations for Love (1988). He published four more collections, in which love and eroticism play a major role. From his hand also appeared to collections of short stories.
The religious vocabulary of Arabic occupies a prominent place in Ahmed al-Shahawi’s poetry, as does the special mystical vocabulary he uses to colour his erotic poems. Famous love poems play a role in his work, such as the Muallaqaat poems which, as tradition has it, were hung from the walls of the Ka’abah in Mecca in pre-Islamic days. Equally famous are the poems of the Uzrites, who prefererred to die rather than touching the beloved they were singing about.
Ahmed al-Shahawi received the UNESCO Literary Award in 1995 and in the Kavafis Award in 1998. He has appeared at numerous national and international poetry festivals in the Arab world, America and Europe.

[Ahmed al-Shahawi took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2004. This text was written on that occasion.]

© Kees Nijland (Translated by Ko Kooman)


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