Naguib Mahfouz

Active - 1999 - 1999  |   Born - Dec 11, 1911   |   Died - Aug 30, 2006   |   Genres - Drama, Culture & Society, Language & Literature

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If laurels were bequeathed for breakthroughs on the Arab cultural scene, Naguib Mahfouz would sweep up a barrelful of honors. He broke new ground as the premier Arabic belletrist to garner international acclaim (and the first to win a Nobel Prize for literature); in the process, Mahfouz almost single-handedly paved the way for an entire culture of Middle Eastern literary successors. And few have equaled the quantity of his output: when the author passed away at age 94 on August 30, 2006, he claimed a library of work: 33 novels, 13 short story collections, 30 screenplays, and a handful of stage plays to his credit -- all critically acclaimed.

Born in Cairo on December 11, 1911, as the youngest son of a civil servant, with six siblings, Mahfouz came of age and spent the majority of his life in his home city. He studied literature at the University of Cairo, where he imbibed the spectrum of history's greatest, from Dickens to Tolstoy, and began to pen short stories; no less than 80 appeared in magazines. His first short story collection, The Whisper of Madness, received publication in 1938. He gained his greatest infamy as an author for his ultra-realistic novels, with their prosaic descriptions of intertwining lives in Cairo, including the noted Cairo Trilogy of the '40s and '50s. More broadly, he used his entire corpus of work to chronicle the sweeping history of social change in Egypt over the decades.

In terms of cinema, Mahfouz served as the head of the Egypt's State Cinema Organization during the '70s, where he worked as a fundraiser and censor (and drew nasty criticism for the latter). About 30 of his novels and short stories received an onscreen adaptation, including Cairo 30 (1966), Ayoub (1984), Principio y Fin (1994), and El Callejón De Los Milagros (1995).

Like Salman Rushdie (whom he defended for a time), Mahfouz constantly elicited the ire of Muslim fundamentalists for his criticisms of Islam. He was stabbed in a 1994 attack by Islamic extremists, but fully recovered; in July 2006, Mahfouz sustained a head injury as the result of a fall and received hospitalization. He died a little over a month later.