Amal Al Jubouri (1967—)
A native of Iraq, Amal Al Jubouri published her first book of poetry, Wine from Wounds, at 19 years old. Against the trend of her time and place, Al Jubouri published this collection privately and without the support of the Hussein regime—an approach continued throughout her career and one that is emblematic of the independence for which she has come to be known. Her debut excited the attention of some of the Arab world’s greatest poets and literary critics, including Adonis, Abdul-Wahab Al Bayati, and Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, and would initiate the career of a writer described by the major American poet and critic Alicia Ostriker as one who “will immediately take her place alongside Neruda and Tsvetaeva and Celan—poets of exile, yes, and poets of difficult truth.”
After her debut, she studied English literature at the University of Baghdad and published widely. Her translations of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Lord Byron, Rudyard Kipling, Emily Dickinson, W.B. Yeats, and others were placed in Arabic daily newspapers throughout the region, as well as Dialogue Magazine (Paris, France). She also became a freelance journalist, reporting for the Kuwaiti daily Al Qabas, the Saudi daily Al Haras Al Watani, and Dialogue; from 1991-1996 she wrote a biweekly column called Al Masala, for the Iraqi daily Al Jumhureya.
Amal in Yemen, 2002 with Gunter Grass
In 1989 she founded her publishing house Al Masar (now East West Diwan), with the support of her family. Known for translating international literature into Arabic, Al Masar published the first Arabic anthology of contemporary English poetry, as well as translations of Samuel Beckett, Nikos Kazantzakis and others.
In 1994 her second collection, Words, Set Me Free!, was published by the Jordanian house Al Shorouk with an introduction by Jabra Ibrahim Jabra. In 1995 Al Jubouri’s translation of Herbert Mason’s The Death of Al Hallaj, a dramatic play about the martyrdom of the Sufi mystic, was also published in Amman, Jordan.
In 1997 Al Jubouri took political asylum with her daughter in Munich, Germany. While in Munich, she published her third collection of poems, This Body is Yours, Do Not Fear for My Sake (sometimes translated as Enheduanna, Priestess of Exile) with Al Saqi, a publishing house out of London, receiving the Silver Prize in aesthetics from the Beirut Book Fair. Soon thereafter a second edition of Words, Set Me Free!, as well as the poet’s translation of Mason’s novel Where the Rivers Meet, was published in Cairo, Egypt.
The poet’s exile would prove the catalyst that would make her a major force for literary activism between the Middle East and the West. In 2000 she organized the first Arabic-German poetry conference in Yemen, and was subsequently invited to be the Cultural Counselor for the Yemeni government, a roll she continued while living in Berlin. At this time, she also founded the only Arabic-German poetry magazine, Diwan and translated three major German poets into Arabic: Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Joachim Sartorius, and Annemarie Schimmel.
When, in 2000, the Ba’ath Party published in Babel and Al Zawraa a register of the regime’s enemies, they included a dossier of blacklisted writers on which Al Jubouri’s name appeared first. In spite of this, her work to build peace through literature continued to gain momentum. In 2001 she founded the East West Diwan Cultural Foundation for Arabic and German culture and, in 2002, she organized an Arabic-German literary conference in Yemen that included the Nobel Prize winning writer Günter Grass, Mahmoud Darwish, and Adonis, among others.
In 2003 Al Jubouri returned to Baghdad two days after the Ba’ath Party fell from power. She established the Iraqi branch office of the East West Diwan Cultural Foundation, as well as a German language school for orphaned girls. During this time, she also published her fourth collection, 99 Veils, with Al Saqi; edited a special issue of Diwan Magazine on contemporary Iraqi art, The Language of the World; and co-produced the documentary film From Berlin to Baghdad, on the looting of the National Museum of Iraq during the U.S. led invasion. In 2004 her selected poems, The Euphrates is Wide Between Us, was published in German translation with an introduction by Joachim Sartorius in which he compared Al Jubouri’s lyric melancholy to Else Lasker-Schüler. In 2005 she founded the Diwan Poetry Prize, which is awarded to the best unpublished Arabic collection in each year.
In 2007 Al Jubouri founded the Iraqi PEN in Damascus, and the poet Awat Hassan’s translation of her collection 99 Veils was published in Kurdistan, with a second edition appearing in 2008. Also in 2008 she published her fifth collection of poetry, Hagar Before the Occupation/Hagar After the Occupation, with Al Saqi and produced her second documentary film, Books in Iraq Between Two Occupations, a look at literary piracy in the Middle East, which was screened at both the BookExpo America and the Frankfurt Book Fair.
In the same year the Iraqi critic and poet Mohammed Saber Obaid published in Beirut a book of criticism about Al Jubouri, A Dialogue of Divine Erotics: On the Poetry of Amal Al Jubouri, with a second edition appearing in Damascus in 2011. During this time she also mediated the agreement between the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation and the East West Diwan Cultural Foundation to standardize remuneration for Arabic literary translators. In 2010 she edited and translated into Arabic The Marriage of Love and Betrayal, an anthology of contemporary German poetry.
In the fall of 2011 the American press Alice James Books will publish Hagar Before the Occupation/Hagar After the Occupation, translated by Rebecca Gayle Howell with Husam Qaisi; it will be her first collection in English. Amal Al Jubouri lives in London, where she is currently at work on her memoir.