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Paul Frederic Bowles (; December 30, 1910 - November 18, 1999) was an American expatriate composer, author, and translator. He became associated with Tangier, where he settled in 1947 and lived for 52 years to the end of his life.
Following a cultured middle-class upbringing in New York City, during which he displayed a talent for music and writing, Bowles pursued his education at the University of Virginia before making several trips to Paris in the 1930s. He studied music with Aaron Copland, and in New York wrote music for theatrical productions, as well as other compositions. He achieved critical and popular success with his first novel The Sheltering Sky (1949), set in what was known as French North Africa, which he had visited in 1931.
In 1947 Bowles settled in Tangier, at that time in the Tangier International Zone, and his wife Jane Bowles followed in 1948. Except for winters spent in Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) during the early 1950s, Tangier was Bowles' home for the remainder of his life. He came to symbolize American immigrants in the city.
Paul Bowles was born in Jamaica, Queens, New York City as the only child of Rena (née Winnewisser) and Claude Dietz Bowles, a dentist. His childhood was materially comfortable, but his father was a cold and domineering parent, opposed to any form of play or entertainment, and feared by both his son and wife. According to family legend, Claude had tried to kill his newborn son by leaving him exposed on a window-ledge during a snowstorm. The story may not be true, but Bowles believed it was and that it encapsulated his relationship with his father. Warmth in his childhood was provided by his mother, who read Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe to him - it was to the latter that he later attributed his own desire to write stories, such as "The Delicate Prey", "A Distant Episode", and "Pages from Cold Point"
Bowles could read at age 3 and was writing stories by age 4. Soon, he wrote surrealistic poetry and music. In 1922, at age 11, he bought his first book of poetry, Arthur Waley's A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems. At age 17, he had a poem, "Spire Song", accepted for publication in Transition. This Paris-based literary journal served as a forum for leading proponents of modernism -- Djuna Barnes, James Joyce, Paul Éluard, Gertrude Stein and others. Bowles' interest in music also dated from his childhood, when his father bought a phonograph and classical records. (Bowles was interested in jazz, but such records were forbidden by his father.) His family bought a piano, and the young Bowles studied musical theory, singing, and piano. When he was 15, he attended a performance of Stravinsky's The Firebird at Carnegie Hall, which made a profound impression: "Hearing The Firebird made me determined to continue improvising on the piano when my father was out of the house, and to notate my own music with an increasing degree of knowing that I had happened upon a new and exciting mode of expression."
Bowles entered the University of Virginia in 1928, where his interests included T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, Prokofiev, Duke Ellington, Gregorian chant, and blues. He also heard music by George Antheil and Henry Cowell. In April 1929, he dropped out without informing his parents, and sailed with a one-way ticket for Paris and no intention of returning - not, he said later, running away, but "running toward something, although I didn't know what at the time." Bowles spent the next months working for the Paris Herald Tribune and developing a friendship with Tristan Tzara. By July, he returned to New York and worked at Duttons Bookshop in Manhattan, where he began work on an unfinished book of fiction, Without Stopping (not to be confused with his later autobiography of the same title).
At the insistence of his parents, Bowles returned to studies at the University of Virginia but left after one semester to return to Paris with Aaron Copland, with whom he had been studying composition in New York. It was during the autumn of 1930 in Paris that Bowles began work on his own first musical composition, the Sonata for Oboe and Clarinet, which he finished the following year. It premiered in New York at the Aeolian Hall on Wigmore Street, 16 December 1931. The entire concert (which also included work by Copland and Virgil Thomson) was "panned" by New York critics. (Bowles' first-known composition was completed earlier in Berlin: an adaptation as piano music of some vocal pieces by Kurt Schwitters.)
In Paris, Bowles became a part of Gertrude Stein's literary and artistic circle. On her advice, he made his first visit to Tangier with Aaron Copland in the summer of 1931. They took a house on the Mountain above Tangier Bay. Bowles later made Morocco his full-time home, and it inspired many of his short stories. From there he returned to Berlin, where he met British writers Stephen Spender and Christopher Isherwood. (Isherwood was reportedly so taken with him that he named a character Sally Bowles in his novel after him.) The next year, Bowles returned to North Africa, traveling throughout other parts of Morocco, the Sahara, Algeria, and Tunisia.
In 1937, Bowles returned to New York. Over the next decade, he established a solid reputation as a composer, collaborating with Orson Welles, Tennessee Williams, and others on music for stage productions, as well as orchestral pieces.
In 1938, he married Jane Auer, an author and playwright. It was an unconventional marriage; each of their intimate relationships were with people of their own sex, but the couple maintained close personal ties with each other. Bowles has frequently been featured in anthologies as a gay writer, but during his life, he always regarded such typecasting as both absurd and irrelevant. After a brief sojourn in France, the couple were prominent among the literary figures of New York throughout the 1940s. Paul Bowles also worked under Virgil Thomson, as a music critic at the New York Herald Tribune. His light opera The Wind Remains, based on a poem by Federico García Lorca, was performed in 1943 with choreography by Merce Cunningham and conducted by Leonard Bernstein. His translation of Jean-Paul Sartre's play Huis Clos ("No Exit"), directed by John Huston, won a Drama Critic's Award in 1943.
In 1945, Bowles began writing prose again, beginning with a few short stories including "A Distant Episode". His wife Jane, he said, was the main influence upon his taking up fiction as an adult, when she published her first novel Two Serious Ladies (1943).
In 1947, Paul Bowles received a contract for a novel from Doubleday; with the advance, he moved permanently to Tangier. Jane joined him there the next year. Bowles commented:
I was a composer for as long as I've been a writer. I came here because I wanted to write a novel. I had a commission to do it. I was sick of writing music for other people -- Joseph Losey, Orson Welles, a whole lot of other people, endless.
Bowles traveled alone into the Algerian Sahara to work on the novel. He later said, "I wrote in bed in hotels in the desert." He drew inspiration from personal experience, noting years later that, "Whatever one writes is in a sense autobiographical, of course. Not factually so, but poetically so." He titled the novel The Sheltering Sky, from a song, "Down Among the Sheltering Palms", which he had heard every summer as a child. It was first published by John Lehmann in England, in September 1949, after Doubleday rejected the manuscript.
I sent it out to Doubleday and they refused it. They said, "We asked for a novel." They didn't consider it a novel. I had to give back my advance. My agent told me later they called the editor on the carpet for having refused the book -- only after they saw that it was selling fast. It only had to do with sales. They didn't bother to read it.
A belated first American edition, by New Directions Publishing, appeared the following month.
The plot follows three Americans: Port, his wife Kit, and their friend, Tunner, as they journey through the Algerian desert, culminating in Port's death and Kit's descent into madness. The reviewer for TIME magazine commented that the ends visited upon the two main characters "seem appropriate but by no means tragic", but that "Bowles scores cleanly with his minor characters: Arab pimps and prostitutes, French officers in garrison towns, [and] a stupidly tiresome pair of tourists--mother & son." In The New York Times, playwright and critic Tennessee Williams commented that the book was like a summer thunderstorm, "pulsing with interior flashes of fire". The book quickly rose to the New York Times best-seller list, going through three printings in two months.
In 1950, Bowles published his first collection of short stories. Titled A Little Stone (John Lehmann, London, August 1950), it omitted two of Bowles' most famous short stories, "Pages From Cold Point" and "The Delicate Prey." British critic Cyril Connolly and writer Somerset Maugham had advised him that if they were included in the collection, distribution and/or censorship difficulties might ensue.:22 The American edition by Random House, The Delicate Prey and Other Stories (November 1950), did include these two stories.
In an interview 30 years later, Bowles responded to an observation that almost all of the characters in "The Delicate Prey" were victimized by either physical or psychological violence. He said:
Yes, I suppose. The violence served a therapeutic purpose. It's unsettling to think that at any moment life can flare up into senseless violence. But it can and does, and people need to be ready for it. What you make for others is first of all what you make for yourself. If I'm persuaded that our life is predicated upon violence, that the entire structure of what we call civilization, the scaffolding that we've built up over the millennia, can collapse at any moment, then whatever I write is going to be affected by that assumption. The process of life presupposes violence, in the plant world the same as the animal world. But among the animals only man can conceptualize violence. Only man can enjoy the idea of destruction.
He set his second novel, Let It Come Down (John Lehmann, London, February 1952), in North Africa, specifically Tangier. It explored the disintegration of an American (Nelson Dyar) who was unprepared for the encounter with an alien culture. The first American edition by Random House was published later that same month.
Bowles set his third novel, The Spider's House (Random House, New York, November 1955), in Fez, immediately prior to Morocco's gaining independence and sovereignty in 1956) In it, he charted the relationships among three immigrants and a young Moroccan: John Stenham, Alain Moss, Lee Veyron, and Amar. Reviewers noted that the novel marked a departure from Bowles' earlier fiction in that it introduced a contemporary political theme, the conflict between Moroccan nationalism and French colonialism. The UK edition (Macdonald) was published in January 1957.
While Bowles was concentrating on his career as a writer, he composed incidental music for nine plays presented by the American School of Tangier. The Bowles couple became fixtures of the American and European immigrant scene in Tangier. Visitors included Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal. The Beat writers Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Gregory Corso followed in the mid-1950s and early 1960s. In 1951, Bowles was introduced to the Master Musicians of Jajouka, having first heard the musicians when he and Brion Gysin attended a festival, or moussem, at Sidi Kacem. Bowles described his continued association with the Master Musicians of Jajouka and their hereditary leader Bachir Attar in his book, Days: A Tangier Journal.
In 1952, Bowles bought the tiny island of Taprobane, off the coast of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). There, he wrote much of his novel The Spider's House and returned to Tangier in the warmer months. He returned to Sri Lanka most winters.
In 1957, Jane Bowles suffered a mild stroke, which marked the beginning of a long and painful decline in her health. Her condition preoccupied Paul Bowles until Jane's death in 1973.
During the late 1950s, Morocco achieved independence. With a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and sponsorship from the US Library of Congress, Bowles spent the months of August to September 1959 traveling throughout Morocco with Christopher Wanklyn and Mohammed Larbi, recording traditional Moroccan music. From 1959-1961, Bowles recorded a wide variety of music from the different ethnic groups in Morocco, including the Sephardic Jewish communities of Meknes and Essaouira. The majority of these recordings are being transferred to the digital medium at George Blood Audio and Video in Philadelphia.
During these years, Bowles also worked at translating Moroccan authors and story-tellers, including Mohamed Choukri, Ahmed Yacoubi, Larbi Layachi (under the pseudonym Driss ben Hamed Charhadi), and Mohammed Mrabet.
In the autumn of 1968, invited by friend Oliver Evans, Bowles was a visiting scholar for one semester at the English Department of the San Fernando Valley State College, (now California State University, Northridge. He taught "Advanced Narrative Writing and the Modern European Novel."
In 1970, Bowles and Daniel Halpern started the literary magazine, Antaeus, based in Tangier. It featured many new authors, such as Lee Prosser, as well as more established authors, such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Daniel Halpern, and others. Bowles' work was also published, including his story "Afternoon with Antaeus", some fragments of an unfinished novel by his wife Jane Bowles, along with excerpts from "The Summer House." Antaeus was not published until 1994.
After Jane Bowles' death, on 4 May 1973 in Málaga, Spain, Bowles continued to live in Tangier. He wrote regularly and received many visitors to his modest apartment.
In the summers of 1980 and 1982, Bowles conducted writing workshops in Morocco, at the American School of Tangier (under the auspices of the School of Visual Arts in New York). These were considered successful. Among several students who have become successful authors are Rodrigo Rey Rosa, the 2004 Winner of the Miguel Ángel Asturias National Prize in Literature, and Mark Terrill. In addition, Bowles designated Rey Rosa as the literary heir of his and Jane Bowles' estates. In 1982 Bowles published Points in Time, subtitled Tales From Morocco, a collection of stories. Divided into eleven parts, the work consists of untitled story fragments, anecdotes, and travel narratives. These stories are not included in either The Stories of Paul Bowles (Ecco Press) or Collected Stories and Later Writings (The Library of America).
In 1985, Bowles published his translation of Jorge Luis Borges' short story, "The Circular Ruins". It was collected in a book of 16 stories, all translated by Bowles, called She Woke Me Up So I Killed Her. This Borges story had previously been published in translations by the three main Borges translators: Anthony Kerrigan, Anthony Bonner, and James E. Irby. Critics have noted the differences amongst these four translations. Bowles' version is in his typical prose style; it is readily distinguishable from the other three, which have a more conservative idiomatic form of translation.
In 1988, when Bowles was asked in an interview what his social life was like, he replied, "I don't know what a social life is... My social life is restricted to those who serve me and give me meals, and those who want to interview me." When asked in the same interview how he would summarize his achievement, he said, "I've written some books and some music. That's what I've achieved."
Bowles had a cameo appearance at the beginning and end of the film version of The Sheltering Sky (1990), directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Bowles' music was overlooked and mostly forgotten for more than a generation, but in the 1990s, a new generation of American musicians and singers became interested in his work again. Art song enthusiasts savor what are described as "charming, witty pieces."  In 1994, Bowles was visited and interviewed by writer Paul Theroux, who featured him in his last chapter of his travel book, The Pillars of Hercules.
In 1995, Bowles made his final return to New York, invited to a "Paul Bowles Festival" at Lincoln Center celebrating his music; it was performed by Jonathan Sheffer leading the Eos Orchestra. A related symposium on Bowles' work and interview were held at the New School for Social Research.
Visitors in 1998 reported that Bowles' wit and intellect remained. He continued to welcome visitors to his apartment in Tangier but, on the advice of doctors and friends, limited interviews. One of the last was an interview with Stephen Morison, Jr., a friend teaching at the American School of Tangier. It was featured in the July/August 1999 issue of Poets & Writers magazine. On June 6, 1999, Irene Herrmann, the executrix of the Paul Bowles Music Estate, interviewed him to focus on his musical career; this was published in September 2003.
Bowles died of heart failure on November 18, 1999 at the Italian Hospital in Tangier, aged 88. He had been ill for some time with respiratory problems. His ashes were buried in Lakemont, New York, next to the graves of his parents and grandparents.
Paul Bowles lived for 52 of his 88 years in Tangier. He became strongly identified with the city and symbolized American immigrants. Obituary writers always linked his life to his residency there.
When Bowles had first visited Tangier with Aaron Copland in 1931, they were both outsiders to what they perceived as an exotic place of different customs. They were not bound by any local rules, which varied among the many ethnic groups. Tangier was a Moroccan and international city, a longtime trading center, with a population made up of Berber, Arab, Spanish, French and other Europeans, speaking Spanish, French, Berber and Arabic, and professing a variety of religions. Politically it was under the control of a consortium of foreign powers, including the United States. Paul Bowles was entranced by the city's culture. By his return in 1947 the city had of course changed, but he still found it full of strangeness and wonder. In 1955 anti-European riots erupted as the people sought independence. In 1956 the city was returned to full Moroccan control.
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Bowles' reputation as a composer was ultimately overshadowed by his writing. He studied with Aaron Copland, wrote chamber music and incidental music for the stage, and collected Moroccan folk music. The score of his opera Yerma (1955) is especially memorable and gets much radio play. His compositions are being re-released.
He was a pioneer in the field of North African ethnomusicology, making field recordings from 1959 to 1961 of traditional Moroccan music for the US Library of Congress. The collection includes dance music, secular music, music for Ramadan and other festivals, and music for animistic rituals. Bowles realised that modern culture would inevitably change and influence the practice of traditional music, and he wanted to preserve some of it.
Bowles commented on the political aspects of the practice of traditional music:
"Instrumentalists and singers have come into being in lieu of chroniclers and poets, and even during the most recent chapter in the country's evolution - the war for independence and the setting up of the present regime - each phase of the struggle has been celebrated in song."
The total collection of this recorded music is known as "The Paul Bowles Collection"; it is archived in the US Library of Congress, Reference No. 72-750123. The Archival Manuscript Material (Collection) contains 97 x 2 track 7" reel-to-reel tapes, containing approximately sixty hours of traditional folk, art and popular music, one two box of manuscripts, 18 photographs, and a map, along with the 2 LP recordings called 'Music of Morocco' (AFS L63-64).
In the 1960s Bowles began translating and collecting stories from the oral tradition of native Moroccan storytellers. His most noteworthy collaborators included Mohammed Mrabet, Driss Ben Hamed Charhadi (Larbi Layachi), Mohamed Choukri, Abdeslam Boulaich, and Ahmed Yacoubi.
He also translated writers whose original work was written in Spanish, Portuguese and French: Rodrigo Rey Rosa, Jorge Luis Borges, Jean-Paul Sartre, Isabelle Eberhardt, Guy Frison-Roche, André Pieyre de Mandiargues, Ramon Gomez de la Serna, Giorgio de Chirico, Si Lakhdar, E. Laoust, Ramon Beteta, Gabino Chan, Bertrand Flornoy, Jean Ferry, Denise Moran, Paul Colinet, Paul Magritte, Popul Buj, Francis Ponge, Bluet d'Acheres and Ramon Sender.
Paul Bowles is considered one of the artists to have shaped 20th-century literature and music. In his "Introduction" to Bowles' Collected Stories (1979,) Gore Vidal ranked the short stories as "among the best ever written by an American", writing: "the floor to this ramshackle civilization that we have built cannot bear much longer our weight. It was Bowles's genius to suggest the horrors which lie beneath that floor, as fragile, in its way, as the sky that shelters us from a devouring vastness".
Critics have described his music, in contrast, "as full of light as the fiction [is] of dark...almost as if the composer were a totally different person from the writer." During the early 1930s, Bowles studied composition (intermittently) with Aaron Copland; his music from this period "is reminiscent of Satie and Poulenc." Returning to New York in the mid-30s, Bowles became one of the preeminent composers of American theater music, producing works for William Saroyan, Tennessee Williams, and others, "show[ing] exceptional skill and imagination in capturing the mood, emotion, and ambience of each play to which he was assigned." Bowles said that such incidental music allowed him to present "climaxless music, hypnotic music in one of the exact senses of the word, in that it makes its effect without the spectator being made aware of it." At the same time he continued to write concert music, assimilating some of the melodic, rhythmic, and other stylistic elements of African, Mexican, and Central American music.
In addition to his chamber and stage compositions, Bowles published fourteen short story collections, several novels, three volumes of poetry, numerous translations, numerous travel articles, and an autobiography.
1931 - Sonata for Oboe and Clarinet
1936 - Horse Eats Hat, play
1936 - Who Fights This Battle, play
1937 - Doctor Faustus, play
1937 - Yankee Clipper, ballet
1938 - Music for a Farce
1938 - Too Much Johnson, play
1938 - Huapango - Cafe Sin Nombre - Huapango-El Sol, Latin American folk
1939 - Denmark Vesey, opera
1939 - My Heart's in the Highlands, play
1940 - Loves Old Sweet Song, play
1940 - Twelfth Night, play
1941 - Liberty Jones, play
1941 - Watch on the Rhine, play
1941 - Love Like Wildfire, play
1941 - Pastorela, ballet
1942 - In Another Five Years Or So, opera
1943 - South Pacific, play
1943 - Sonata for Flute and Piano and Two Mexican Dances
1943 - 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, play
1944 - The Glass Menagerie, play
1944 - Jacobowsky and the Colonel, play
1944 - Sentimental Colloquy, ballet
1945 - Ondine, play
1945 - Three, words by Tennessee Williams
1945 - Three Pastoral Songs
1946 - Night Without Sleep, words by Charles Henri Ford
1946 - Cyrano de Bergerac, play
1946 - The Dancer, play
1946 - Land's End, play
1946 - On Whitman Avenue, play
1946 - Twilight Bar, play
1946 - Blue Mountain Ballads [Heavenly Grass, Lonesome Man, Cabin, Sugar in the Cane], words by Tennessee Williams, music by Paul Bowles
1946 - Concerto for Two Pianos
1947 - Sonata for Two Pianos
1947 - Pastorela: First Suite, a ballet/opera in one act
1947 - The Glass Menagerie, words by Tennessee Williams, two songs by Bowles
1948 - Concerto for Two Pianos, Winds and Percussion
1948 - Summer and Smoke, play
1949 - Night Waltz
1953 - A Picnic Cantata
1953 - In the Summer House, play
1955 - Yerma, opera
1958 - Edwin Booth, play
1959 - Sweet Bird of Youth, play
1962 - The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, play
1966 - Oedipus, play
1967 - The Garden, play
1969 - The Bacchae, play
1976 - Cross Country
1978 - Orestes, play
1978 - Caligula, play
1984 - Camp Cataract, play
1984 - A Quarreling Pair, play
1992 - Hippolytos, play
1993 - Salome, play
1949 - The Sheltering Sky
1952 - Let It Come Down
1955 - The Spider's House
1966 - Up Above the World
1991 - Too Far From Home (novella)
1992 - Too Far From Home (with Miquel Barceló; 28 watercolors)
1994 - Too Far From Home (with Maguerite McBey)
Short stories (collections)
1950 - A Little Stone
1959 - The Hours after Noon
1967 - The Time of Friendship
1968 - Pages from Cold Point and Other Stories
1975 - Three Tales
1977 - Things Gone & Things Still Here
1979 - Collected Stories, 1939-1976
1981 - In the Red Room
1982 - Points in Time
1985 - Midnight Mass
1988 - Unwelcome Words: Seven Stories
1988 - A Distant Episode
1988 - Call at Corazon
1989 - A Thousand Days for Mokhtar
1995 - The Time of Friendship Paul Bowles & Vittorio Santoro
1933 - Two Poems
1968 - Scenes
1972 - The Thicket of Spring
1981 - Next to Nothing: Collected Poems, 1926-1977
1997 - No Eye Looked Out from Any Crevice
1946 - No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre
1952 - The Lost Trail of the Sahara by Guy Frison-Roche
1967 - Love With A Few Hairs by Mohammed Mrabet
1969 - The Lemon by Mohammed Mrabet
1969 - M'Hashish by Mohammed Mrabet
1973 - For Bread Alone by Mohamed Choukri
1973 - Jean Genet in Tangier by Mohamed Choukri
1974 - The Boy Who Set the Fire by Mohammed Mrabet
1975 - Hadidan Aharam by Mohammed Mrabet
1975 - The Oblivion Seekers by Isabelle Eberhardt
1976 - Look & Move On by Mohammed Mrabet
1976 - Harmless Poisons, Blameless Sins by Mohammed Mrabet
1977 - The Big Mirror by Mohammed Mrabet
1979 - Tennessee Williams in Tangier by Mohamed Choukri
1980 - The Beach Café & The Voice by Mohammed Mrabet
1982 - The Path Doubles Back by Rodrigo Rey Rosa
1983 - The Chest by Mohammed Mrabet
1983 - Allal by Pociao
1984 - The River Bed by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, (a short story)
1985 - She Woke Me Up So I Killed Her -- 16 authors' short stories from various languages
1986 - Marriage With Papers by Mohammed Mrabet
1986 - Paul Bowles: Translations from the Moghrebi by various authors
1988 - The Beggar's Knife by Rodrigo Rey Rosa
1989 - Dust on Her Tongue by Rodrigo Rey Rosa
1990 - The Storyteller and the Fisherman, CD by Mohammed Mrabet
1991 - The Pelcari Project by Rodrigo Rey Rosa
1991 - Tanger: Vues Choisies" by Jellel Gasteli
1992 - Chocolate Creams and Dollars by various authors
2004 - Collected Stories by Mohammed Mrabet
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More interviews on the official Paul Bowles website