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Remembering Egyptian master of short stories, Yussuf Idris

Yussuf Idris lived among farmers in villages across Egypt and was close to the lives of the poor, who found ways in turn to express their lives through him

MENA, Saturday 19 May 2012
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On 19 May 1927, Egypt's greatest short stories writer, Yussuf Idris, was born to a father who was a specialist in land reform.

The young Idris moved throughout the country in his childhood, brought up in villages and among farmers.

Idris became a physician after a long struggle during his university years against British rule in Egypt, during which he had to endure prison spells that interrupted his education.

Upon graduation, he started a paralllel career in writing.

Idris's first short story, written during his time in prison, was very popular among his peers and was the beginning of his fame. His very first published novel appeared in Al-Masry newspaper, introduced by Abdel-Rahman El-Khamisi in 1950. With the appearance of his first short stories collection, Cheapest Night, in 1954, Idris's name spread like lightning, owing to the full development of his style and perception of humans and the world.

Egyptian writer Ahmed El-Khamisi comments on Idris's focus on the lives of farmers and agriculture workers, saying that it was as if these characters who were appearing shyly in Tawfiq El-Hakim and Taha Hussein writings had finally found room for full expression within Idris's pen.

"Although there were early shades of the Egyptian farmer in the works of El-Sharkawy, The Land, but the farmer's image by Idris came fully into life, with multi-dimensions away from the perfectionism bestowed by earlier writers," El-Khamisi comments.

Following the 1952 Revolution, Idris wrote a lot as ideas and topics flowed through him, inspired by his unbroken link to the village and to his daily encounters with the poor through his practice of medicine at Kasr El-Aini Hospital. The 1950s were described as the peak of realism: "We believed we could change the whole wide world," Latifa El-Zayat describes, echoing that art and writing can change societies.

64 years after his birth, Idriss died in August 1991, after having established new foundations for the Arabic short story, building on the first attempts — in early 20th century Egypt — by Eissa Ebeid, Shehata Ebeid and Yahia Haqqi, later to be developed by Mohamed Taymour, until Idris's contributions completed the architecture.

"With his death, farmers decided to collect all their stories and leave, leaving behind only meager shadows that appear in flight above the literary writing," El-Khamisi concludes. 

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