1925 – 2008
Lebanese intellectual, writer, novelist, translator, lexicographer and publisher Suhail Idriss passed away in Beirut on Tuesday February 19, 2008. Suhail Idriss was the founder of the well-known literary publishing house Dar Al-Adab and the literary monthly Al-Adab, which played a influential role in the Arab intellectual and literary scene during the 1960s and 1970s.
The publishing house, run now by his son Samah and daughter Rana, continues to be one of the major fiction publishers in the Arab world.
Fusing Arab nationalism with modernity, Suhail Idriss was renowned for his promotion of French existentialist literature through his translation and publication of works of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. At the time, many Arab nationalist intellectuals found existentialism to be a philosophy that could serve as an answer to communism.
Suhail Idriss attended Al-Maqasid Islamic College and later the Farouq College of Islamic Canonical Law. He donned the cloth in 1935 only to relinquish it five years later. He started his career as an editor for the daily Beirut and the weekly magazine Beirut Al-Masa'a and also worked for Al-Sayyad and Al-Jadid. He later went to France, earning a PhD in literature in 1952, with a dissertation on “The foreign Influences on Modern Arabic Fiction from 1900-1950”.
In 1953, together with Bahij Uthman and Munir Al-Baalbecki, he established Al-Adab magazine, and from 1956 to 1992 was its editor. In 1955, he founded the “Independent Pen Association” with Ra’if Khouri and Hussein Mruwi. The following year Suhail Idriss married Aida Matarji and the same year founded Dar Al-Adab publishing house with the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, the latter being forced to quit in the early 1960s when he worked as a diplomat with the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In 1968, with Qustantin Zureiq, Joseph Mughayzel and the Syrian poet Adonis, Suhail Idriss founded the Lebanese Writers’ Union. He was elected its secretary-general three times in succession, and again in 1989 and in 1991.
Idriss wrote three novels – The Latin Quarter (1953), Al-Khadaq Al-Ghamiq (1958) named after a Beirut neighbourhood, and Our Fingers that are Burning (1962) – and six collections of short stories. He compiled the French-Arabic dictionary Al-Manhal with Jabbour Abd Al-Nour, and for more than quarter of a century worked with Sheikh Subhi Al-Saleh, and his son Samah, on Arabic-French and Arabic-Arabic editions. He also worked as an instructor in translation and arabization at the Arab University of Beirut. In all, he translated over twenty books, many among them works by Sartre, Camus, Debray and Foucault.
Suhail Idriss is survived by his wife Dr Aida Matarji and their two daughters and son, Raeda, Rana and Samah.
Banipal No 31 Spring 2008
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