Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1224, (4 - 10 December 2014)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1224, (4 - 10 December 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Obituaries - Radwa Ashour (1946-2014) Death of a Tantouriyah

Death of a Tantouriyah
Death of a Tantouriyah
Al-Ahram Weekly

Though preceded by a long illness, the death on Sunday of Egyptian novelist and literature scholar Radwa Ashour left many deeply shocked. The almost universal distress has been evident across the media and in numerous circles. The 68-year-old, left-wing icon’s mourners included not only the literary community and Ashour’s extended family of students and teachers, academic and political figures but also — vindicating her achievement — scores of readers, most of whom had never met her in person.

Receiving the mourners at the funeral, which set off from the Salaheddin Mosque in Manial, Ashour’s birthplace in Cairo, were her husband of 42 years, the Palestinian poet Mourid Bargouti (author of the acclaimed memoir I Saw Ramallah) and their only son, the poet and scholar Tamim Bargouti.

A Cairene through and through, Radwa Ashour earned her BA in English literature from Cairo University in 1967 — together with female intellectual figures like Amina Rashid and Safinaz Kazem, she would come to be associated with the Student Movement of the early 1970s — going on to teach at Ain Shams University in the same year. She earned her PhD on African American literature from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1972; while in America, she became friends with the late Edward Said.

As a writer Ashour is best known for The Granada Trilogy (1994-1995), a fictional epic on the Arabs’ last days in Spain that combines historical insights with human entertainment and demonstrates her commitment to an Arab identity. Her first work was a memoir of her days as a student in the US, The Journey: Memoirs of an Egyptian Student in America (1983); her last, Heavier than Radwa (2013), was an autobiography. Her penultimate book, The Tantouriyah (2010), is the fictional history of a Palestinian family that hails from the village of Al-Tantoura, south of Haifa, from 1948 to 2000. Ashour wrote seven other novels and two volumes of short stories in addition to literary criticism including works on the Palestinian novelist Ghassan Kanafani, the connection between the visionary writers Gibran Khalil Gibran and William Blake and, under the title of A Possible Modernity, the great Arab-Ottoman scholar Ahmad Faris Al-Shidyaq.

Ashour was politically active within the academic community and beyond. She was a member of the National Culture Defence Committee, the Resistance of Zionism in Egyptian Universities Committee and the 9 March Group for the Independence of Universities; she was frequently a juror at the Supreme Council of Culture, and received numerous awards for her fiction.

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