Ghassan Kanafani

Ghassan Kanafani

Personal Info

Years in active : From 1952 To 1972
Country of resident : Lebanon
City : Beirut
Gender : Male
Date of birth : 7/8/1936


Ghassan Fayiz Kanafani was born in 1936 in the then Acre (Akka), British Mandate of Palestine. His father was a lawyer, and sent Ghassan to French missionary school in Jaffa.

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Kanafani and his family were forced into exile, a part of the Palestinian exodus. Their home city became part of Israel.

The family initially fled north to neighbouring Lebanon, less than 11 miles north, but soon moved on to Damascus, Syria, to live there as Palestinian refugees. Kanafani completed his secondary education in Damascus, receiving a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) teaching certificate in 1952.

Ghassan Kanafani began writing short stories when he was working in the refugee camps. Often told as seen through the eyes of children, the stories manifested out of his political views and belief that his students’ education had to relate to their immediate surroundings. While in Kuwait, he spent much time reading Russian literature and socialist theory, refining many of the short stories he wrote, winning a Kuwaiti prize.

Kanafani published his first novel, Men in the Sun in Beirut in 1962. He also wrote a number of scholarly works on literature and politics. His thesis, Race and Religion in Zionist Literature, formed the basis for his 1967 study On Zionist Literature.

Considered a major modernizing influence on Arab literature and still a major figure in Palestinian literature today, Kanafani was an early proponent of complex narrative structures, using flashback effects and a chorus of narrator voices for effect. His writings focused mainly on the themes of Palestinian liberation and struggle, and often touched upon his own experiences as a refugee. He was, as was the PFLP, a Marxist, and believed that the class struggle within Palestinian and Arab society was intrinsically linked to the struggle against Zionism and for a Palestinian state.

Also an active literary critic, Kanafani’s seminal work, Palestinian Literature Under Occupation, 1948-1968, introduced Palestinian writers and poets to the Arab world. He also wrote a major critical work on Zionist and Israeli literature. In the spirit of Jean-Paul Sartre, he called for an engaged literature which would be committed to change.

Achievements and Awards

The same year he enrolled in the Department of Arabic Literature at the University of Damascus and began teaching in UNRWA schools in the refugee camps. Before he could complete his degree, Kanafani was expelled from the university and exiled to Kuwait for his political affiliations – [1] a result of his involvement in the Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM), a left-wing pan-Arab organization to which he had been recruited by Dr. George Habash when the two met in 1953. Some biographers, however, do not believe Kanafani was ever expelled, but simply moved to Kuwait, where he worked as a teacher and became more politically active. In Kuwait he edited al-Ra’i (The Opinion), which was an ANM-affiliated newspaper, and also became interested in Marxist philosophy and politics.

In 1960, he relocated once again to Beirut, where he began editing the ANM mouthpiece al-Hurriya. In 1961, he met Anni Høver, a Danish children’s rights activist, with whom he had two children. In 1962, Kanafani briefly had to go underground, since he, as a stateless person, lacked proper identification papers. He reappeared in Beirut later the same year, and took up editingship of the Nasserist newspaper al-Muharrir (The Liberator). He went on to become an editor of another Nasserist newspaper, al-Anwar (The Illumination), in 1967.

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