Naguib Mahfouz (1911), Egyptian author, the first Arab writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature. Born in Cairo, Mahfouz was educated at the Egyptian University (now Cairo University). The youngest of seven children of a lower-rank civil servant, he acquired a sound knowledge of both medieval and modern Arabic literature while still in high school. As a philosophy student at the university, he contributed articles to professional journals. To improve his English, he translated James Baikie's Ancient Egypt (1912) into Arabic (published 1932). After graduating, Mahfouz turned to writing fiction. More than 80 of his short stories were published in the following six years. His collection Hams al-junun (A Whisper of Madness) appeared in 1938. While employed at Egypt's Ministry of Religious Affairs from 1939 to 1954, Mahfouz wrote three volumes of a planned series of 40 historical novels set in ancient Egypt. He then abandoned the project, however, and after World War II (1939-1945) he turned to writing novels of social realism. In his works of the next several years, Mahfouz examined Egyptian society and people. At the same time, he began to write screenplays for the Egyptian motion-picture industry.
In the changed political climate following the overthrow of Egypt's monarchy in 1952, Mahfouz's al-Thulathiyya (The Cairo Trilogy, 1956-1957), an extended three-volume consideration of Egyptian life in the first half of the 20th century, became an immediate and enduring success. Having written al-Thulathiyya in the early 1950s (some time passed between the work's writing and its publication), Mahfouz did not write again for publication until 1959, when his novel Awlad haratina (Children of Gebelawi, 1981) was published. The novel contemplates humanity's use of religion in its continual search for meaning. In this work, as in many of his later books, Mahfouz used a combination of realism and symbolism to great effect. Later in his career Mahfouz also experimented with the stream-of-consciousness technique. His other books include al-Liss wa al-kilab (1961; The Thief and the Dogs, 1984), al-Tariq (1964; The Search, 1987), Tharthara fawq al-Nil (Chatter on the Nile, 1966), Miramar (1967; translated, 1978), Hubb taht al-matar (Love in the Rain, 1973), Hadrat al-muhtaram (1975; Respected Sir, 1986), Afrah al-qubba (1981; Wedding Song, 1984), and Qushtumur (1988). In 1988 Mahfouz was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.
Mahfouz's works, especially Awlad haratina, have occasionally produced controversy in Egypt because of their treatment of religion. In 1994 he was stabbed by an assailant who objected to the use of elements of Islam in his books.
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