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MOHAMMED MRABET: Biography

by Roberto de Hollanda

 

Mohammed Mrabet (born Mohammed ben Chaib el Hajjem) first met Jane and Paul Bowles in Tangier, Morocco in 1960 when he was working on floors in their apartment building, the Edificio Itesa. Paul Bowles later taped, transcribed and translated most of Mrabet's stories from Moghrebi into English, and published largely with the help of Paul Bowles. Mrabet is a story-teller whose works have been published worldwide, and he has also painted for several decades.

Abdelaziz Jadir, a Moroccan professor of literature who visited Paul Bowles regularly in his last years, is currently working on an Arabic translation of Mrabet's story "Love With A Few Hairs". View photographs of the four other Moroccan writers and storytellers who Paul Bowles worked with on this page.

 

Mohammed Mrabet was born on March 8, 1936 in Tangier, in the north of Morocco. His forefathers had come from the Rif but moved to Tangier before the city was declared an International Zone and had settled down outside the town in a district that today is called M`sallah. Like many Moroccan adolescents, he preferred to live in the freedom of the street rather than staying at home and subordinate to discipline. He never went to school and made his living as a fisherman, worked in European bars and households, and as a boxer traveled through Spain and Mallorca. Out of curiosity and looking for big money, Mrabet went to the United States for the first time in 1960 and two more journeys followed, but the country did not impress him much.

        Back in Tangier in 1960 he met Jane Bowles and her husband Paul Bowles, the expatriate American composer and writer. Through his close friendship with the Bowleses, Mrabet met important writers such as Tennessee Williams, Alfred Chester, William Burroughs and Truman Capote. 

 
  Mohammed Mrabet painted this gouache on paper in 1963. (Collection of Gloria Kirby)

        Although known primarily as a Moroccan storyteller, Mrabet began making ink drawings in 1958, and later paintings, partly inspired by Ahmed Yacoubi. In Tangier he was acquainted with other artists such as Maurice Grosser, Brion Gysin and Claudio Bravo, and he continues painting to this day. Mrabet's paintings and ink drawings have been exhibited in Morocco, Europe and the United States. His drawings and paintings are held in numerous private collections and institutions.

        During his childhood Mrabet listened to traditional story tellers in Tangier´s cafés―a world that fascinated him. Later on he would invent his own stories, and Paul Bowles taped and transcribed his stories. Mrabet´s first novel Love with a Few Hairs was published 1967 in London by Peter Owen, followed two years later with The Lemon. Since then, seventeen books written by Mohammed Mrabet have been published and his works have been translated into twelve languages.

        Henry Miller wrote: "Mrabet sees what it means to work simply and tellingly. His writing is quite unique and an inspiration not only to young writers but to veterans too. He has found the secret of communicating on all levels."

        The language of Mrabet is a maze like the thousand alleys of the Medina―seductive, but dangerous―without a guide one is lost in suggestions and allusions. His culture does not lend itself to our limited rational thought―the only way is by feeling into it, not thinking. Otherwise one remains dazzled by what one sees and does not enter the deeper secrets; hence it would be foolish to tell a story as it was. "A tongue tells a thousand truths, but you always only want to hear one." says Mrabet.

        Again and again in the stories of Mohammed Mrabet, the tensions between two cultures become clear:  they reject themselves like opposite poles and only seldom come together.

Copyright © 2006, Roberto de Hollanda

 

ROBERTO DE HOLLANDA was born in Madrid, Spain in 1953. He grew up in South America and Europe, graduated at Friedrich-Wilhelms University, Bonn, Germany (sociology and political science) and works as a free-lancer. He has done translations of known authors such as Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, Almudena Grandes, Tom Robbins, Nestor Lujan, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, James Dickey, Jan Kerouac, Bob Woodward and others. de Hollanda wrote the scripts for and/or directed television productions which include Neugier trieb uns um die Welt: Paul Bowles in Tanger, a documentary on the American author Paul Bowles and the German composer Hans Helfritz, Tangier―Legend of a City, a feature film on the International Zone of Tangier in the 1940s and 1950s, and Mohamed Choukri: eine Kindheit in Marokko, a documentary on the life of the Moroccan writer. Roberto de Hollanda also represents authors as literary agent worldwide, among them Mohamed Choukri, Mohammed Mrabet, Souad Bahéchar and Zoubeir Ben Bouchta.

 

"When I tell a story I don’t know where or why it began, how it will continue or when it will end. A story is like the sea, it has no beginning and no end, it is always the same and still it keeps always changing. When the ears want to hear, a voice begins to speak. Today the ears don’t want to hear but the eyes want to see. And when the pen forms words the story becomes a rock and rocks never change."―Mohammed Mrabet

Mohammed Mrabet: Bibliography and Works

Love with a Few Hairs, taped and translated from the Moghrebi by Paul Bowles (London: Peter Owen, 1967; New York: George Braziller, 1968; Pour l’amour de quelques cheveux, Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1972, traduction de l'anglais en français par Yves Malartic. Enregistrement et adaptation de l'arabe dialectal par Paul Bowles; San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1986; Pour l’amour de quelques cheveux, Paris: Devillez Didier Éditeur, 1997; Fez, Morocco: Moroccan Cultural Studies Centre, 2004, with an introduction by Brian T. Edwards)

 

The Lemon (London: Peter Owen, 1969; New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969, 1972); in Portuguese, O Limão, translated by Carlos Lacerda (Rio de Janeiro, Brasil: Editora Nova Fronteira, 1969); in French, Le Citron, recorded and translated from the Arabic by Paul Bowles in collaboration with Mrabet (Paris: Christian Bourgois éditeur, 1989); in German, El Limón translated by Lilian Faschinger and Thomas Priebsch (Graz, Austria: Literaturverlag Drosch, 2002)

 

M'Hashish (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1969; London: Peter Owen, 1988; M'haschich, with illustrations by Pascal; translated by Claude Nathalie Thomas  (Lutry, Suisse: L'Esprit frappeur, 1998)  [stories]

 
“Abdeslam and Amar” (Omphalos, 1:1, March 1972) [translated by Paul Bowles]
 
"The Dutiful Son" (San Francisco: Bastard Angel, No. 1. Spring 1972: pp. 39-40)
 
"Pahloul" (New York: Antaeus, Summer 1972)
 
"Like the Sahara Only Dirty" (The Transatlantic Review, Autumn-Winter, 1974)
 

The Boy Who Set the Fire and Other Stories (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1975; San Francisco, City Lights Books, 1988). Translated by Paul Bowles. Includes "What Happened in Granada", "Si Mokhtar", "Baraka", "The Saint by Accident", "Abdesalam and Amur", "The Witch of Bouiba Del Hallouf", "The Dutiful Son", "Bahloul", "The Spring", "The Boy Who Set the Fire", "Mimoun the Fisherman", "Ramadan", "Larbi and His Father", "The Well", "The Hut", "Doctor Safi" and "The Woman from New York".

 
Hadidan Aharam (Sparrow 37, Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, October 1975)
 

The Beach Cafe & The Voice (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1976); in French, Le café de la plage (Paris: Christian Bourgois Éditeur, 1989; translated by Claude Nathalie Thomas). In 1998 the Moroccan-born filmmaker Mohamed Ulad Mohand produced a film version of Le café de la plage (Azilah Productions, Paris, France). The film was presented at film festivals in Vila do Conde, Portugal and São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

 
Harmless Poisons, Blameless Sins (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1976)
 

Look and Move On, autobiography of Mrabet as told to Paul Bowles (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1976; Paris: Devillez Didier, 2000)

 
"El Fellah", translated by Paul Bowles (Outlaw Visions, Los Angeles: Acrobat Books, 1977)
 

The Big Mirror (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1977; in French, Le Grand miroir, Le Grand Miroir,  translated from the Arabic by Paul Bowles and Chantal Mairot-Queyras (Paris: Christian  Bourgois Éditeur, 1989)

 
"Earth", a play translated by Paul Bowles (New York: Conjunctions I, Inaugural Double-Issue, edited by Bradford Morrow, Fall 1981): 120-138
 
The Chest and The Qaftan (Bolinas, California: Tombouctou Books, 1983)
 
Three Tales (New York: School of Visual Arts Press, 1983)
 
Marriage with Papers (Bolinas, California: Tombouctou Books, 1986)
 
Cinq regards (Paris: Christian Bourgois Éditeur, 1989)
 
"Doctor Safi" (short story). Rolling Stone magazine, April 1972; The Art of the Tale: An International Anthology of Short Stories, edited by Daniel Halpern (New York: Penguin Press, 1989)
 
Chocolate Creams and Dollars, with photographs by Philip Taaffe (New York: Inanout Press, 1992)
 
Ramadan & andere Erzählungen (Graz, Austria: Literaturverlag Droschl, 1993)
 
"The Canebrake" (a short story) by Mohammed ben Chaib el-Hajjan, a pseudonym for Mohammed Mrabet. The Art of the Story: An International Anthology of Contemporary Short Stories, edited by Daniel Halpern (New York: Viking Press, 1999)
 
Collected Stories (Fez, Morocco: Moroccan Cultural Studies Centre, 2004)
 
Love With a Few Hairs, with an Introduction, "What Happened In Tangier?" by Brian T. Edwards (Fès, Maroc: Moroccan Cultural Studies Centre, 2004)
 

Le poisson conteur: Et autres stories de Tanger, translated by Éric Valentin (Manosque, France: Le Bec en l'Air Éditions, 2006)

 

Stories de Tanger / Stories of Tangier, by Mohammed Mrabet with Simon-Pierre Hamelin, manager of Le Librairie des Colonnes bookshop in Tangier (Casablanca, Maroc: Éditions du Sirocco, November 2009. En version bilingue français et anglais. Le première édition marocaine des histoires de Mrabet.) Includes the short story "Djellaba of a Thousand Colors", and fifty original paintings and drawings by Mrabet. The French texts were translated into English by William Kutz. Read a book review of Mrabet's Stories de Tanger, "Histoires d’une réalité magique: Stories de Tanger de Mohammed Mrabet" in the February 5, 2010 issue of l'Opinion newspaper, written by Saïd Afoulous.

 
Manaraf, with illustrations by Mohammed Mrabet, written down and adapted by Simon-Pierre Hamelin, and translated into Dutch by Irene Beckers (Amsterdam, Holland: Nieuw Amsterdam, October 2009)  [Anecdotal Novel; not yet available in English]
 
Mémoires fantastiques, transcrit et adapté par Éric Valentin (Lyon, France, Rouge Inside éditions, 2011)
 

Mohammed Mrabet: Audio/Spoken Word Recordings (CD, DVD)

The Storyteller and The Fisherman, translated and read by Paul Bowles; produced by Randall Barnwell (Brussels, Belgium: Sub Rosa, 1990, CD; 2004, DVD)

 

References for Mohammed Mrabet

"Mohammed Mrabet" (Interview conducted by Daniel Halpern) Transatlantic Review 39 (Spring, 1971)

 

Ibrahim Dawood, "Mohammed Mrabet's Fiction of Alienation", World Literature Today, 6 (1990): 264–67

 

Richard F. Patteson, "Paul Bowles/Mohammed Mrabet: Translation, Transformation, and Transcultural Discourse", Journal of Narrative Technique, 22, no. 3 (Fall 1992): 180-190

 

Claude Nathalie Thomas, "On Translating Paul (and Jane and Mrabet)", Journal of Modern Literature, Volume 23, Number 1, Fall 1999, pp. 35–43

 

With Much Fire In the Heart: The Letters of Mohammed Mrabet to Irving Stettner, with an introductory note by Ron Papandrea (Dallas, Pennsylvania: Stroker Press, 2004). These letters, translated by Paul Bowles, were originally published in various issues of Stroker magazine from 1979 to 1986.

 

Raj Chandarlapaty, "In Defense of Tradition: Mohammed Mrabet's Postcolonial Leanings and The Confrontation of 'Kif Wisdom' With Modernity", Storytelling, Self, and Society, vol. 3, no. 1 (2007), 32-49 (Mahwah, New Jersey: Taylor & Francis). Originally published by Lawrence Erlbaum & Associates.

 

Brian T. Edwards, "What Happened in Tangier?", Introduction to Moroccan republication of Love With a Few Hairs (1967) by Mohammed Mrabet. (Fez, Morocco: Moroccan Cultural Studies Centre,  i-xiv, 2004)

 
Brian T. Edwards, "On the Role of Intelligence in Globalization: Phases of Mrabet's Work", Mrabet / Bowles: Literary and Cultural Encounters (Fez, Morocco: Moroccan Cultural Studies Centre, Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah University, 2005)
 

Abdelaziz Jadir, "A Narrator’s Life: An Interview with Mohammed Mrabet" (in Arabic), Afaq, ("Horizons"), Union des Écrivains du Maroc, No. 53-54, 1993: 334 (Journal of the Moroccan Writers' Union)

 

YouTube.com video featuring Mohammed Mrabet in Tanger, Maroc

 
Art Exhibitions of Mohammed Mrabet (Ink Drawings and Paintings)
1970 The offices of Antaeus, New York, New York, U.S.A.
Summer 1970 City Lights Bookshop, San Francisco, California
July 1988 La Galerie Paul Mauradian, Lyon, France 
May 1989 Cavin-Morris, Inc., New York, New York 
Nov. 1991 La Galerie Art en Marge, Brussels, Belgium
June 1997 Edit-Librairie, Hôtel Continental, Tanger, Maroc
April 1998 Al Akhawayn University, Ifrane, Morocco
August 1998 Galerie Aplanos, Asilah, Morocco
Feb. 1999 University of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.A.
2002 Galeria Tarifa, Tarifa, Spain
2003 Institut Cervantes, Tangier, Morocco
2004 Darna, Maison Communautaire des Femmes, Grand Socco, Tanger, Maroc
Feb. 2006 Complexe Dawliz, Tanger, Maroc
August  2006 The Lawrence-Arnott Art Gallery, Tangier, Morocco
Oct.-Nov. 2007  El Minzah Hôtel, Tanger, Maroc
May 3, 2009 Librairie des Colonnes, Tanger, Maroc (also book signing with Éric Valentin)
May 7–10, 2009 Hay Festival of Literature, Alhambra, Granada, Spain (Fundación Euroarabe; Fundación Rodriguez Acosta; AECID―Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional y Desarrollo; with Simon-Pierre Hamelin)
   
Nov 19–21, 2009 Crossing Border Festival, The Hague, Holland
   
Oct  30, 2010 Paul Bowles Centennial, Musée de la Kasbah, Dar el Makhzen, Tangier, Morocco (Librairie des Colonnes and Délégation du Ministère de la Culture à Tanger)
   
Mar. 24―April 2, 2011  ARTINGIS, Tanger, Maroc (exposition 100 tableaux de Mohammed Mrabet à l’occasion de ses 75 ans)
   
March 25, 2011 Librairie des Colonnes, Tangier, Morocco. Mohammed Mrabet with Éric Valentin on the occasion of the publication of Mémoires fantastiques (Rouge Inside éditions, Lyon, France)
February 3, 2012 ARTINGIS, Conference par artiste dans l'auditorium de l'Ecole Groupe Scholaire "Le Detroit", Rue Banalsaj, Tanger, Maroc

 

 
MOHAMMED MRABET
Moroccan storyteller and artist

 

Mohammed Mrabet, Tangier, 1979

 

Mohammed Mrabet
 
Mohammed Mrabet, cutting kif Mrabet on a visit with Paul Bowles, Tangier, 1994

 

Mohammed Mrabet celebrates Paul Bowles's 80th birthday on December 30, 1990 (photograph copyright © 1990 by Cherie Nutting)

 

Photographs of Mohammed Mrabet

(Photographs below are Copyright © by Roberto de Hollanda; use without written permission is prohibited)

 

 

 

 

 

Two Recent Paintings by Mohammed Mrabet

 

 

Copyright © by Mohammed Mrabet

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