Naguib Mahfouz was most prominent literary figure in the Arab world of the Twentieth Century, best known for his Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Walk), which became an international bestseller. He was born in Cairo in 1911 and lived in the suburb of Agouza with his wife and two daughters for the rest of his life.
He published more than thirty novels as well as many collections of short stories, plays and screenplays. In 1988, Mr Mahfouz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first Arab writer to win it. In 1994, after the publication of a novel that led him into trouble with Egypt's religious authorities, an attempt was made on his life, but he died peacefully in 2006, aged 94.
Interview Naguib Mahfouz
Interview with Naguib Mahfouz by writer and journalist Mohamed Salmawy in March, 2006.
Mohamed Salmawy: What did you feel when you knew you had won the Nobel Prize for Literature?
Naguib Mahfouz: I felt extreme happiness as well as great astonishment. I never expected to win the prize. During my time Nobel was awarded to writers of the highest calibre like Anatole France, Bernard Shaw, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner. There were also Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. I had heard that an Arab writer might some day win the Nobel Prize, but I greatly doubted it would happen.
Mohamed Salmawy: But did not writer Abbas Mahmoud El-Aqqad nominate you to the prize 20 years before you won it? This was during a television interview in which he said he believed you deserve the Nobel Prize.
Naguib Mahfouz: El-Aqqad was always courageous in his thinking.
Mohamed Salmawy: Did winning the Nobel Prize in any way influence your life and subsequent work?
Naguib Mahfouz: Yes, it encouraged me to continue writing. But I received it at a later stage of my writing career, unfortunately. The only thing I wrote afterwards was Echoes of an Autobiography. I am now writing Dreams of Recuperation. Even the novel Qushtumur, which was published in serialised form in Al-Ahram was written before the prize. It appeared in book form afterwards.
On the personal level winning Nobel imposed on me a life-style to which I am not used and which I would not have preferred. I accepted the interviews and encounters that had to be held with the media, but I would have preferred to work in peace.
Mohamed Salmawy: What made you become a writer and who inspired your career?
Naguib Mahfouz: I started writing while I was in school on copy-books. I was inspired by contemporary Arab writers like El-Manfalouti, Taha Hussein, and El-Aqqad. They moved in me the passion to write, with the result that I moved from the science section to the literature section when I was in secondary school.
Mohamed Salmawy: What have been the most important events in your life since Nobel?
Naguib Mahfouz (pointing to his neck): This, the beating I received in 1994 (referring to the assassination attempt on his life when a youth tried to plunge a dagger in his neck. Mahfouz’s right hand was paralyzed for a long time afterwards). But I was also greatly honoured by the state and people in a way that deeply moved me.
Mohamed Salmawy: What has been the impact of your works on Egyptian literature since you won the Nobel Prize?
Naguib Mahfouz: The answer to this must be left to the critics. Only they can say whether my writings influenced Arabic literature or not. One effect that the Nobel Prize seems to have had is that more Arabic literary works have been translated into other languages. I heard this from Russian visitors, as well as from Germans who came to Egypt to invite us to the Frankfurt International Book Fair for which they were preparing at the time.
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