Today in Literary History – December 30, 1910 – Paul Bowles is born

Paul Bowles, the composer, novelist and short story writer, was born in New York City on December 30, 1910. He died in 1999 (just short of his 89th birthday) in Tangier, Morocco where he had lived for over 50 years.

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Truman Capote, Jane and Paul Bowles in Tangier

Bowles — along with his wife, writer Jane Bowles (who died in 1973) — drew a devoted following of young American writers who made the trip to Tangier to meet the couple beginning in the 1950s and sixties.

Bowles was highly admired by the Beat writers,  many of whom, such as William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg made pilgrimages to see him in Tangier, and who also shared his appreciation of mind expanding drugs.  Bowles is often considered a precursor of the Beats, but his writing is much more precise and much less nihilistic.

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Prior to moving to Tangier in 1947 Bowles had a successful career as a composer of scores for on and off-Broadway plays, written by friends such as Orson Welles and Tennessee Williams, as well as operas and sonatas.

He lived a nomadic life, using New York as his base. In Paris he befriended Gertrude Stein who recommended that he move to Morocco and begin writing.

Bowles first novel, The Sheltering Sky (1949) was written in a succession of sweltering hotel rooms along the edges of the Sahara Desert. It guaranteed his literary fame, and his reputation today rests mostly on it and his haunting and psychologically harrowing short stories.

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Bowles marriage to Jane has been the subject of much scrutiny over the years. They appeared to be very compatible, despite their prolonged absences from one another and the fact that they both were gay and pursued same-sex relationships throughout their marriage.

Jane suffered from alcoholism and had a stroke at the age of 40, from which she never fully recovered.

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Paul and Jane Bowles’ critical reputations and readerships have grown steadily over the years and today they have a fanatical, almost cult-like following of obsessive admirers.

Bowles lived long enough to enjoy the reading public’s renewed interest in his work, but continued to live modestly in Tangier, visiting New York only once, shortly before his death, after a 25 year absence.

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In his later years he published many translations of Moroccan novels and folk tales and returned to composing music based on traditional Moroccan tunes.

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