Obituary: Sabah Kharrat Zouein (December 8, 1954 – June 5, 2014)

Sabah Kharrat Zouein, August 2013 at the CITL library in Arles

Sabah Kharrat Zouein, August 2013 at the CITL library in Arles

The OIB is saddened to learn of the untimely death of Sabah Kharrat Zouein, an outstanding Lebanese poetess and literary critic who succumbed to a serious illness in early June, at the age of fifty-nine. Sabah was a friend of the OIB since the late 1990s. Working as a literary and cinema critic for Beirut’s daily an-Nahār and widely praised for the innovative prose poetry of her book Al-Bait al-mā’il (1995), Sabah was first ‘discovered’ for the institute by former OIB director Angelika Neuwirth who invited her in 1997 to the OIB’s recital series “Portfolio – Beiruti authors read their favorite texts”. Her seminal lecture “The multi-dimensional body in writing: Eros, sin and death” was a highlight of the OIB’s international Symposium “Ghazal as a genre of world literature” in July 1999. Her essay “Passion de l’écriture” was published in the OIB’s Festschrift for John Donohue (From Baghdad to Beirut: Arab and Islamic Studies in honor of John J. Donohue s.j., ed. by Leslie Tramontini and Chibli Mallat, Beirut 2007, BTS, vol. 108). She contributed also to the institute’s research focus on “Modern Arab Poetry”, launched by former OIB research associate Arnim Heinemann, especially in the framework of the international poetry translation project “Verstransfer Beirut-Berlin” (2007) in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut and the “Literaturwerkstatt Berlin”.

Humble and always ready to help, she was a goldmine of information for students of modern Arab literature who came to Beirut for field research. Her work and career are reviewed in two OIB related manuals: Agonie und Aufbruch: neue libanesische Prosa, ed. by Angelika Neuwirth and Andreas Pflitsch (Beirut: Dergham, 2000), and Crosshatching in global culture: A dictionary of modern Arab writers, ed. by John J. Donohue, SJ, and Leslie Tramontini (Beirut: OIB, 2004; BTS, vol. 101).

In 2005 she left an-Nahār and continued to work as a prolific free-lance literary critic, translator, and poetess. Facing many challenges in her professional life, but endowed with enormous energy, an exemplary working ethos, and an outstanding talent to feel and write in several languages, she was able to publish between 2006 and 2013, apart from her work as a translator, four new poetry books in Arabic and four anthologies of current Lebanese poetry in French, Spanish, and Arabic. Frequently invited to poetry events and public talks abroad and at home, she wrote, inter alia, for al-Quds al-‘Arabī (London), as-Safīr (Beirut), Nizwā (Oman), and had, from 2009-2013, a weekly column in al-Liwā’ (Beirut). Her last poetry book, ‘Indamā al-dhākira, wa indamā ‘atabāt ash-shams, illustrated by the Lebanese painter Amīn al-Bāshā, came out in November 2013, only a few weeks before her terminal illness prevented her from continuing her poetic ‘journey’ through life.

Her voice has now fallen silent, but her work will survive her. Those who had the chance to know her in person will remember her kindness, loyalty, humbleness, vast knowledge, and engaging curiosity. Those who had the chance to read and study her work will also deplore the loss of so many books, verses, and thoughts that now will remain unwritten.

Thomas Scheffler


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