Thursday, August 5, 2010

Paul Bowles centennial year: A tribute sparks a memory (updated)

This year marks the centennial of the birth of Paul Bowles (1910–1999), expatriate novelist, story writer, poet, composer, and translator. The author of four novels and dozens of short stories, Bowles is best known for his first novel, The Sheltering Sky (1949)—the haunting story of the misadventures of three young Americans trekking across the Sahara—and for his travel writing. His collection of travel essays Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue chronicles the 25,000 miles he traveled in Morocco in 1959 on a Rockefeller Foundation grant to record indigenous music for the Library of Congress. It regularly appears on lists of best travel books (most recently on World Hum’s 100 Best Travel Books).

A social outsider, Bowles spent the last 52 years of his life in Morocco. Critics often find it difficult to categorize Bowles. Robert Craft has called him “the last of the ‘Lost’ Generation and the first of the ‘Beats’.” Edmund White puts it more simply: “one of the four or five best writers in English in the second half of the twentieth century.”

Little Augury’s appreciative blog post yesterday about Paul Bowles’s and Cherie Nutting’s collaborative book, Yesterday’s Perfume: An Intimate Memoir of Paul Bowles, prompted the book’s designer Elizabeth Avedon to recall her meeting with Bowles and Nutting to discuss the assignment:
Yesterday's Perfume holds the last work of Paul Bowles. I was fortunate to be invited to visit him in Tangier, Morocco, where he'd lived for 52 years, by Cherie and Paul about a year before he died in 1999. He’d liked a book I designed for photographer Peter Beard, Longing For Darkness: Kamante's Tales From Out of Africa, and I believe he mistakenly thought I needed to meet him to be able to design a book for them. I didn't tell anyone it wasn't necessary to travel to Morocco to design a book, I just packed my bags and filled them with a long list of sought-after American items he missed. He was very frail, but insisted on hosting the most wonderful dinner parties for me in Jane Bowles’ apartment, upstairs or downstairs from his own. He dressed for these occasions in an elegant Ralph Lauren robe and slippers. Sitting opposite me on the couch, he charmed me with fascinating stories about his travels in Mexico.
Readers can find information about upcoming events celebrating the centennial (in Portugal, Morocco, and Santa Cruz, California) at the official Paul Bowles site.

Update (8/15): Cherie Nutting recently sent along her own recollections of how Yesterday's Perfume came about:
In 1986, on my first visit to Tangier, I mentioned to Paul my idea to make a scrap book. He handed me Peter Beard's book (which Elizabeth had designed) and thought I might like it. I did. But it was actually Bruce Weber who, more than a decade later, urged me to contact “Betty” Avedon.

I contacted Elizabeth and asked her to design my book, and I showed her my ideas. I invited her to come to Tangier. I thought by coming to Tangier and meeting Paul, it would give her a better feeling for the work. Paul graciously invited her for tea in his apartment, which he had for himself and any guests each afternoon at 4. Paul Bowles didn't have dinners for others in his own apartment, because he was too old, but neighbors downstairs in Jane Bowles's apartment invited Paul, Elizabeth, and me for a few dinners during her stay in Morocco.

I was very pleased with Elizabeth's work. She transformed my ideas into a work of art.
Related LOA works: Paul Bowles: Collected Stories and Later Writings (includes Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue); Paul Bowles: The Sheltering Sky, Let It Come Down, The Spider's House

6 comments:

  1. I am truly honored to be mentioned here. My heartfelt thanks. Gaye Tapp

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  2. Thank you so much for the beautiful mention. I was fortunate to meet Paul Bowles and be included in his small circle for a few weeks and continue to hope "Yesterday's Perfume" will be reissued someday. Elizabeth Avedon

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  3. I am so happy to have found this blog.
    A special thanks to "Little Augury" for the introduction.

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  4. How soon before William Burroughs gets the L.O.A. treatment?

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  5. Tangier Morocco
    Ramadan

    Thank you for posting my comments on your excellent
    Library of America blog.I am in his apartment now
    and only wish that Paul were here to see how people are still talking about him during his Centennial year.

    Cherie Nutting

    ReplyDelete

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