Iconic Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef dies at 87 in London

Mohammed Saad , Sunday 13 Jun 2021

Saadi Youssef has published more than 40 collections of poetry, the most important of which are Qasai’d Mari’iyah (Visible Poems) published in 1969

Saadi Youssef

Iconic Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef, has died today at the age of 87 in his home in Harefield outside of London, leaving behind a rich poetic legacy with 40 works of poetry and a dozen of prose, literary criticism and a memoir.

Youssef died on Saturday 12 June at 4:10 am according to a statement released by his official website. He will be buried at the Highgate cemetery in North London.

He is survived by his two daughters Mariam and Shiraz and his wife Iqbal Kadom and three granddaughters.

Youssef was born in Basra governorate in the village of Abi al-Khasib in Iraq in 1934.

He completed his secondary studies in the city of Basra and graduated from the Teachers' College of Baghdad in 1954, with B.A. (Honors) in Arabic Literature.

He worked as a teacher early on, and later in literary journalism, but was mostly devoted to a life of writing.

Saadi Youssef has published more than 40 collections of poetry, the most important of which are Qasai’d Mari’iyah (Visible Poems) published in 1969; L’Akhdar Ben Youssef wa Mashaghilihi (L’Akhdar Ben Youssef and His Concerns) in 1971; and Ashjaru Ithaka (The Trees of Ithaca) in 1992.

He also published a dozen works of prose ranging from fiction, criticism, and memoir.

He was also one of the most prolific translators to Arabic, with a list of translations that exceeds 40 works that include the poetry of Walt Whitman, Federico Garcia -Lorca, Yannis Ritsos and Constantine Cavafy, and novels by Ngugi wa Thiongo, Wole Soyinka, Kenzaboro Aoi and George Orwell.

Youssef's poetic works have been translated into English, French, German and Italian.

Two volumes of Saadi Yousef have appeared in English and were published by Graywolf Press: Without an Alphabet, Without a Face, translated by Khaled Mattawa (2002), and Nostalgia, My Enemy, translated by Peter Money and Sinan Antoon (2012).

According to a biography written by Khaled Motawe, Youssef joined the Iraqi Communist Party in his youth and considered himself a socialist throughout his life, a dedication that landed him in prison several times.

In the mid-1950s, he traveled to Moscow to attend a youth forum, which made his return to Iraq dangerous, thus leading to a move to Kuwait where he taught for two years.

He returned to Iraq with the 1958 revolution, but in 1963 the Ba'athists imprisoned him after he they seized power.

After his release from prison in1964, Youssef traveled to Algeria and worked a teacher in the city of Sidi Belabbas for several years.

Youssef returned to Iraq in the early 1970s but left again at the end of the decade when Saddam Hussein came to power.

In the decades that followed, Youssef found himself moving between Damascus and Beirut; then Cyprus, Yemen and Tunisia after the PLO left Lebanon, followed by a few years in Paris and Amman.

In 1999, Saadi moved to London, living in a retirement community in Harefiled (Oxbridge) for the last two decades of his rich life.  

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