Mohamed Choukri  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Mohamed Choukri (Arabic:محمد شكري) (July 15, 1935November 15, 2003), was a Moroccan author who is best known for his autobiography For Bread Alone (al-Khubz al-Hafi), which was described by the American playwright Tennessee Williams as 'A true document of human desperation, shattering in its impact.'

Choukri was born in 1935, in Beni Chiker, a small village in the Rif mountains, near Nador. Raised in a poor family, he ran away from his tyrannic father and became a homeless child living in the poor neighborhoods of Tangier, surrounded by misery, prostitution, violence and drug abuse. At the age of 20, he decided to learn how to read and write and to become a schoolteacher.

In the 1960s, in the cosmopolitan Tangier, he met Paul Bowles, Jean Genet and Tennessee Williams. His first writing was published in 1966 (in Al-adab, monthly review of Beirut, a novel entitled Al-Unf ala al-shati (Violence on the Beach). International success came with the English translation of Al-khoubz Al-Hafi (For Bread Alone, Peter Owen Publishers) by Paul Bowles in 1973. The book was be translated to French by Tahar Ben Jelloun in 1980 (éditions Maspéro), published in Arabic in 1982 and censored in Morocco from 1983 to 2000. The book would later be translated into 30 other languages.

His main works are his autobiographic trilogy, beginning with For Bread Alone, followed by Zaman Al-Akhtaâ aw Al-Shouttar (Time of Mistakes or Streetwise, 1992) and finally Faces. He also wrote collections of short stories in the 1960s/1970s (Majnoun Al-Ward, Madman of the roses, 1980; Al-Khaima, The Tent, 1985). Likewise, he is known for his accounts of his encounters with the writers Paul Bowles, Jean Genet and Tennessee Williams (Jean Genet and Tennessee Williams in Tangier, 1992, Jean Genet in Tangier, 1993, Jean Genet, suite and end, 1996, Paul Bowles: Le Reclus de Tanger, 1997).

Mohamed Choukri died on November 15, 2003 from cancer at the military hospital of Rabat and was buried at the Marshan cemetery in Tangier on November 17, with the audience of the Minister of Culture, numerous government officials, personalities and the spokesman of the King of Morocco. Before he died, Choukri created a foundation, Mohamed Choukri (president, Mohamed Achaâri), owning his copyrights, his manuscripts and personal writings. Prior to his death he provided for his servant of almost 22 years.


Early Years

Mohamed Choukri was born in the Rif during a famine, in a poor family with many children and a violent father. His mother tongue was the rifian (a Berber dialect). Because of poverty, his family migrated to Tétouan and then to Tangier. As a chld Choukri survived thanks to a variety of jobs, serving in a French family in the Algerian Rif, or guiding sailors who arrived in Tangier, where he learned Spanish. Now his life is surrounded by prostitutes, thieves, smugglers and especially a tyrannic and violent father. Choukri accused him of murdering his young brother, Kader, as well as his wife. After a family dispute, he left his family at the age of 11 to live in Tangier. There, he was a homeless child, a petty burglar, an occasional smuggler and a prostitute. At the age of 20, he met someone who changed his life.

Learning how to read and write

He met someone who helped him to learn how to read and write classical Arabic, a strange language for this boy, accustomed to darija (Moroccan arabic) and rifian. He decides to leave Tangier in 1956 (year of the independence of Morocco) and goes to Larache, entering a primary school at the age of 21. He continues, enters the Ecole Normale and becomes a schoolteacher. Back in Tangier in the 1960s, he continues to go to the bars and brothels and begins to write his personal story in Arabic with an unmediated honesty, so that he won't be appreciated by everybody.

Choukri grew to literary fame through his association with American writer and composer Paul Bowles, who lived in Tangier for decades. Bowles and Choukri worked together on the translation of For Bread Alone in 1973, and Bowles arranged for the novel to be published in England by Peter Owen.

Censorship of For Bread Alone

For Bread Alone became an international success when published in English, but the book also caused a furor in the Arab world. When the Arabic edition emerged, it was prohibited in Morocco, made by the Interior Minister, Driss Basri, following the advice of the religious authorities. It was said to have offended by its references to teenage sexual experiences and drug abuse. This censorship ended in 2000, and For Bread Alone was finally published in Morocco. In 2005, For Bread Alone was removed from the syllabus of a modern Arabic Literature course at the American University in Cairo in 2005, due to some sexual explicits writings, prompting some observers to criticize the "ban" and blame government censorship. The incident may, however, was the result of more complex factors, with a report later saying that the problems "are compounded in many areas of campus life by intimidation from Islamist militants, which the government does little to prevent"


Ali Zaoua: Princes of the streets, a film of Nabil Ayouch, tells the story of a homeless child, is an adaptation of For Bread Alone, despite a less shocking atmosphere.

For Bread Alone was adapted to cinema by Rachid Benhadj, in an Italian-French-Algerian production in 2004. It starred Said Taghmaoui amongst others. The film premiered at the first edition of the Festival of Casablanca in 2005.


"When I arrived, there were two Tanger : the colonialist and international Tanger and the Arabic Tanger, made of misery and ignorance. At these times, to eat, I combered the garbages. The European ones preferably, because there were richer."
"I cannot write about the milk of birds, the gentle strangehold of the angelic beauty, grasps of dew, the cascade of lions, the heavy breast of females. I cannot write with a crystal's paintbrush. For me, writing is a protest, not a parade."
"I saw that writing could also be a way to expose, to protest against those who have stolen my childhood, my teenagehood and a piece of my youthfulness. At that moment, my writing became committed"
"There's, in the Moroccan society, a more conservative faction. Those people judge my works as depraved. In my books, there's nothing against the regime. I don't talk about politics or religion. But, what annoy the conservatives, is to notice I criticize my father. The father is sacred in the Arabic-Muslim society."


For Bread Alone, 1973.

The Tent, Short stories, 1985.

Time of Errors, 1992.

Jean Genet and Tennessee Williams in Tanger, 1992.

Jean Genet in Tanger, 1993.

'Madman of the roses, Short stories 1993.

Jean Genet, suite and end, 1996.

Paul Bowles, le Reclus de Tanger, 1997.

Zoco Chico, 1996.

Faces, 1996.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Mohamed Choukri" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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