Jean Genet in Tangier – Mohamed Choukri, Paul Bowles (Translator)

“On a sultry afternoon in the summer of 1973, the American playwright Tennessee Williams stepped into a post office in Tangier to retrieve a package. Like countless other artists and writers – from Mark Twain and Eugène Delacroix in the 19th century to Paul Bowles, Truman Capote, William S Burroughs, Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, Jean Genet and Henri Matisse in the 20th – Williams travelled often to the coastal Moroccan city. With its wild beauty, its jumbled history, its tangle of influences and its peculiar former status as an international zone, Tangier held out to expatriates the promise of adventure and reflection. For some, it was a sleepy, sea-swept city suffused in orange light, a quiet place to live and work. For others, it was dangerous, foreign and exotic, full of spies, tramps and mercenaries. Williams had been frequenting Tangier since at least the early 1950s, when he penned Camino Real there, but this particular trip was his first since 1964. He found the city much changed. When he entered the post office and handed his delivery notice to the clerk, he had to explain why the name on his passport (Thomas) differed from the name of his package (Tennessee). Then he had to fight the confiscation of his copy of a certain men’s magazine, which contained a piece that he himself had written (those were the days when literary heavyweights still contributed to Playboy). And then he had to sit back and watch as the clerk opened and read every single letter in his formidable stack of forwarded mail. ‘The new law insists,’ said the clerk in Arabic, not to Williams but rather to the man accompanying him, the Moroccan writer Mohamed Choukri, for whom Tangier was home. The days of the international zone, which had divided Morocco into French and Spanish enclaves and had made Tangier an elusive and eccentric protectorate playground, were over. Morocco had declared independence and reclaimed Tangier from joint French, Spanish, British and Italian rule in the 1950s, reinstalled the monarchy in the 1960s, annexed the Western Sahara in the 1970s and crushed widespread political unrest with authoritarian tools throughout those decades. … This is one of the more illuminating anecdotes in Choukri’s In Tangier, a new omnibus edition of the writer’s reflections on his relations with Tennessee Williams, Jean Genet and Paul Bowles. It exemplifies Choukri’s writing at its best, condensing the grand narratives of a city, a country and an entire cultural milieu undergoing dramatic change into a charming account of a literary encounter. …”
Our man in Tangier
Kirkus Reviews
W – Mohamed Choukri
[PDF] Jean Genet in Tangier
YouTube: Three Stones for Jean Genet / Patti Smith

Through the novels of Paul Bowles and William Burroughs particularly, Tangier exists and persists in the literary imagination – perhaps as an atmosphere rather than a location – as securely as Dublin is identified with James Joyce.

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