A Love Story between an Arab Poet and His Land

In November 2001 , Mahmud Darwish, the "poetic voice of Palestine" and a leading cultural icon throughout the Arab world (see JPS 123), was awarded the prestigious Lannan Foundation Prize for Cultural Freedom. The prize was established by the Santa Fe-based foundation in 1999 to honor "people whose extraordinary and courageous work celebrates the human right to freedom of imagination, inquiry, and expression." According to the foundation's president, Darwish's importance as a poet as well as his "courage in speaking out against injustice and oppression, while eloquently arguing for a peaceful and equitable coexistence between Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews, [are] what motivates Lannan Foundation to honor him." Though his poetry has been translated into more than twenty languages, little of his work is available in English. For this reason, the Lannan Foundation, in addition to awarding the $350,000 prize to Darwish, is supporting the publication of a translation of poems selected from Darwish's some twenty collections (University of California Press, forthcoming 2002).
On the occasion of the award, Darwish was interviewed in Paris for the New York Times by the New York-based journalist Adam Shatz, who wrote a profile of the poet that appeared on 22 December 2001. The full interview, conducted on 1 December, is being published here for the first time, with the kind permission of Mr. Shatz.