Today is the 100th birthday of Paul Bowles, expatriate writer, composer, and translator. For the last fifty-two years of his life Bowles lived in Tangier, Morocco, with his wife, writer Jane Bowles. Jane Bowles died in 1973, Paul in 1999.
In the opening to his essay “’Without Stopping’: The Orient as Liminal Space in Paul Bowles,” Timothy Weiss encapsulates the range of Bowles’s achievements:
Bowles is unique among North American authors, and perhaps among twentieth-century Western artists, for he distinguished himself not only as a writer of fiction but also as a composer of piano concertos, sonatas, opera, ballets, film scores, and incidental music for the theatre. During the course of these artistic pursuits Bowles also became the United States’ pre-eminent expatriate, traveling and sojourning in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Central America, and living in Tangier, Morocco, for a period of more than fifty years. In his fiction and travel writings about North Africa (the Maghreb), Bowles brought a new perspective from the “periphery” to American literature and contributed to bringing international attention to Maghrebine cultures by way of his numerous translations from Moghrebi into English and his collaborations with local writers and artists.
Gore Vidal, in his introduction to the 1979 edition of Collected Stories: 1939–1976, celebrated Bowles’s storytelling:
His short stories are among the best ever written by an American . . . As a short story writer, he has had few equals in the second half of the twentieth century.
In 2000 Brian T. Edwards sought to assess Bowles’s impact on Moroccan culture and singled out one of his achievements for praise:
Bowles’s translation projects may be his most lasting legacy in Morocco. Mohamed El Gahs, writing in Libération, notes that though Bowles was clear that he didn’t write for a Moroccan audience, he did bring attention to Moroccan authors. “Perhaps if we must pay homage to this man,” El Gahs writes grudgingly, “it would be for his capacity to give a push to the vocations of others while sacrificing his own.” In forwarding Moroccan narrative, Bowles’s translations represent a significant turn away from the colonialist tone of his earlier writing and demonstrate the deep respect he developed for the intricacies of the Moroccan voice. For a novelist, that is no mean tribute.
Nomadics’s post today also applauds Bowles’s efforts to promote the work of Moroccan writers.
Also of interest:
Yesterday Regina Weinrich, co-producer and director of Paul Bowles: The Complete Outsider, posted a commemoration of Bowles.
Last month The New York Times reported the rediscovery of a print of “You Are Not I,” Sara Driver’s 1983 film of a Bowles short story.
Check out the authorized Paul Bowles site for more about the centennial celebrations.
Watch a clip (preceded by a brief advertisement) from Paul Bowles: The Complete Outsider: