["A Profile from the Archives“ is a series published by Jadaliyya in both Arabic and English in cooperation with the Lebanese newspaper, Assafir. These profiles will feature iconic figures who left indelible marks in the politics and culture of the Middle East and North Africa. This profile was originally published in Arabic and was translated by Mazen Hakeem.]
Last Name: Toukan
Father’s name: Abul Fattah Agha Toukan
Mother’s name: Fawzieh Amin Baik
Date of birth: 1917
Date of death: 2003
- Was a Palestinian national who held Jordanian citizenship.
- Went to elementary school in Nablus where a young man threw a jasmine flower at her as an expression of his admiration. Upon hearing of the incident, her brother, Yousef, hit her and forbade her from completing her education. She hailed from a conservative family that possessed political and economic influence and adhered to family and clan traditions. She had to educate herself through reading and through the help of her brother Ibrahim. In her childhood, she tended towards singing and playing the lute. However, she was suppressed and thus learned to play the instrument secretly.
- Raised in one of the biggest families in Nablus, a family that contributed many well-known names in the worlds of literature, politics, and culture. These include her brother Ibrahim, the most famous Palestinian poet; Ahmed, a minister in the Jordanian government who served as prime minister for a short period of time; and her cousin Qadri Hafez Toukan. From the new generation the Toukans include: her nephew, Fawaz Ahmed Toukan (former minister and vice president of the Jordanian Writers Association); Fawz Ahmed Toukan, the wife of the Syrian writer and intellect Sadeq Jalal Al-Azem. Of her unknown brothers: Yousef and Rahmi and also Namr who died in Emil Al-Bostani’s plane crash off the coast of Beirut in mid-March 1963. She has a sister called Fataya and another called Adeebeh.
- Raised in a strict family home and adhered to the list of taboos her father set. At her beginnings, he used to interfere and ask her to change her romantic poetry to political poetry. She used to refuse this interference by saying: “Who gives him the right to ask me to do this while he keeps me locked between four walls.”
- After deciding to live with her brother in Jerusalem, she was able to free herself somewhat from the strict atmosphere that she lived in at her family home. She later said that this saved her from suicide, an idea that tempter her more than once in her past.
- After the death of her brother the poet, Ibrahim, in May 1941 (followed by the passing of her mother and then the Nakba of Palestine in 1948), she started to participate, from a distance, in the political life of the 1950s.
- In 1956, she travelled to Stockholm as part of a Jordanian delegation to attend a conference for peace. Her trip covered the Netherlands, the Soviet Union, and China.
- Joined the cultural club that was established by Waleed Qamhawi and became an active member. Her poetic debut was from this club where she met Kamal Naser, a Jordanian poet and parliamentarian, and Abdul Rahman Shokair, a poet and head of the Arab Baath Socialist Party in Jordan whom she hid in her house when he was pursued by Jordanian authorities. She then helped him escape to Syria.
- In the early 1960s, she left for the United Kingdom and lived in London for two years. She studied the English language and literature at Oxford University and got acquainted with the "Western civilization."
- Her brother Ibrahim named her “Um Tammam” and Mahmoud Darwish named her “the mother of Palestinian poetry" (um al-shi’r al-falastini)
- After that, she returned and lived in her small house on one of the hills of Mount Gerizim where she wrote poetry and published.
- Was shocked by the death of her brother Namr in an airplane incident in 1963 along with Emil Al-Bostani. She was also shocked when her city Nablus fell into the hands of the Zionists in 1967.
- Elected as a member of Al-Najah university board of trustees in Nablus. She wrote the official anthem of the university.
- Signed her poems using the pen name Dananeer, dinars. However, her favorite pen name was Al-Motawaqa, "The Encircled."
- After the start of the Palestinian revolution in 1965, her poetic language changed and she became the poet of hope whereas in the past her poetry was overshadowed by heartache and pain.
- After the war of 1967 and the fall of the West Bank under Israeli occupation, she wrote poems charged with the spirit of resistance. Mahmud Darwish described her as being one of the sides of the triangle of Arabic poetry along with Nazek Al-Mala’ikeh and Salma Khadraa Al-Jyoosi. Perhaps her uniqueness was the fact that she was the boldest and most daring of her compatriots when it came to confession and revelation.
- Moshi Dayan said about her: “Each poem Fadwa Toukan writes, recruits ten Palestinian commandoes for the Palestinian resistance.” So, he summoned her to his office and had a long conversation with her. She later met President Gamal Abdul Nasser and rumors came out that she carried a message from Dayan to Nasser aiming to sign a peace treaty. This allegation is unfounded.
- Published her first poems in Mirror of the East (mir’at al-sharq), newspaper in Jerusalem; it was titled “Longing for Ibrahim.”
- Her boldness stems from her clash with the hyper-masculinity of society in Nablus. She challenged this through her confessions in which she revealed her love affairs. She did not hesitate to write her biography in two volumes. Few biographies compare to that of Toukan and it is widely considered alongside “The Barefoot Bread" (al-khobiz al-hafi) by Mohamed Shukri and “Out of Place" (kharej al-makan) by Edward Said.
- Died on 12 December 2003.
Awards and Decorations
- The Silver Olive Cultural Award for the Mediterranean, Palermo, Italy 1978.
- Jordanian Writers Association’s Award 1983.
- Sultan Oweis Award, United Arab Emirates, 1989.
- The Order of Jerusalem, Palestinian Liberation Organization, 1990.
- The Global Carnival for Contemporary Writing’s Award, Salerno, Italy, 1992.
- Abdul Aziz Saud Al-Babiteen Institution’s Award for creative poetry, 1994.
- Cavafi International Award for Poetry, 1996.
- The Order of Cultural Merit, Tunisia, 1996.
- My Brother Ibrahim, akhi ibrahim – A study (1946).
- I Found It, wajdtoha – poetry (1959).
- Give Us Love. Beirut, a’tina hob – poetry (1961).
- By Myself with Time – 2nd Floor 1952, wahdi ma’ al-ayam – poetry (1965).
- In Front of a Closed Door, amam al-bab al-moghlak – poetry (1967).
- Night and Knights, al-layl wa al-forsan – poetry (1969).
- On Top of the World Alone, ala qimet al-dunia waheedan – poetry (1973).
- Nightmare of Night and Day, kaboos al-layl wa al-nahar – poetry (1974).
- July and the Other Thing, tamooz wa al-shai’ al-akhar – poetry (1978).
- Fadwa Toukan’s Collection of Poems – By Myself with Time, I Found It, Give Us Love, In Front of a Closed Door, and Night and Knights (1978).
- Political Poems, qasa’id siyaseyyah– poetry (1980).
- Difficult Journey Mountain Journey, rihla sa’bah rihla jabliyyeh – the second edition was titled – Mountain Journey.
- Difficult Journey – biography (1985).
- The Most Difficult Journey, al-rihla al-asa’ab – biography (1993)
- The Complete Poetic Works: Fadwa Toukan – By Myself with Time, I Found It, Give Us Love, In Front of a Closed Door, Nights and Knights, On Top of the World Alone, and July and the Other Thing (1993).
- The Commando and the Land, al-fidayee wa al-aradh – poetry.
- It is the Last Tune, innaho al-lahn al-akheer (2000).