Al Waref Figure of the Month
By Alissa Orlando
The Al-Waref Institute recognizes Ounsi el-Hage as the Figure of the Month for October. This famous Lebanese poet values the literary arts as a platform for change. He has used his literary talents to advance the presence of culture in journalism, poetry, and drama.
It is no surprise that Ounsi developed a love for languages, as he was born in 1937 to journalist Louis El Hage and translator Marie Akl. He grew up in Kaitouli, Jezzine, a small town in the South of Lebanon.
Ounsi studied at the “Lycée français” and “La Sagesse” High School. Both of these institutions had an international emphasis and promoted intercultural tolerance. While he was a student at “La Sagesse” High School, he began to share his short stories, essays, and poems in literary magazines.
After graduation, Ounsi began to devote significantly more time to journalism and became Director of the Cultural Page for Al-Hayat, one of the leading daily pan-Arab newspapers, in 1956. He then moved to the An-Nahar newspaper, another leading Lebanese daily paper, where he edited the non-political sections of the publication. During his time with An-Nahar, he vastly expanded its cultural coverage. What was once a cultural column turned into a cultural page, which turned into a weekly cultural supplement called Al Mulhaq in 1964.
After making his mark in journalism, Ounsi used his pioneering spirit to advance poetry in Lebanon. In 1957, he founded the poetry magazine, Shi’r, with two fellow Arab poets, Youssef Khal and Adonis. The magazine became an influential organ of change and a platform for influential thinkers to exchange ideas.
In 1960, he published his first poetry book, Lan, which was the first compilation of poems in prose in Arabic. After Lan, he published five more compilations of poetry: The Chopped Head (1963), The Past of Forthcoming Days (1965), What Have You Made with the Gold, What Have You Done with the Rose (1970), The Messenger with her Hair Long Until the Sources (1975), and The Banquet (1994).
Ounsi also published a book of essays in three volumes under the title of Words, Words, Words, and a book of philosophical contemplations and aphorisms in two volumes: Khawatem. The third volume of Khawatem will appear soon, as well as a set of unpublished works. A choice of his poems has been translated into French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Armenian and Finnish.
In addition to poetry, Ounsi immersed himself in the dramatic arts. Starting in 1963, he translated more than ten plays of Shakespeare, Ionesco, Camus and Brecht into Arabic. Under the direction of Nidal Al Ashkar, Roger Assaf and Berge Vaslian, these infamous plays have been performed in Arab societies using Ounsi’s translations.
Despite branching out into other literary fields, Ounsi continued to be very involved in journalism. He served as Editor-in-chief of several magazines, simultaneously with his permanent work with An Nahar, including Al Hasna magazine in 1966 and Arab and International Nahar between 1977 and 1989. In 1992, Ounsi became Editor-in-chief of the An Nahar newspaper, a post he held until September 30, 2003. He now acts as a consultant to the Board of Editors.
As for his personal life, Ounsi married Layla Daou in 1957. She gave birth to their two children, Nada and Louis. Ounsi is also very close personal friends with Fairuz, a Lebanese diva who is widely considered to be the most famous living singer in the Arab world. Ounsi used the newspaper as a platform to encourage her to take control of her life and to explain the importance of financial independence for a women's liberty.
When interviewed about his life, Ounsi humbly replied, “I often told the same history. I don't believe that it is of any interest to anyone. I have more remorse than achievements, and all that I have done I did without my knowledge. When nobody used to ask me for my opinion on things, such as love and death, I willingly said the truth, but then I stopped saying it as soon as there was someone to ask.”
For additional information on Ounsi El Hage, please visit his website: http://www.ounsielhage.com/.