Moroccan francophone poet Abdellatif Laabi has won the 2021 Roger Kowalski Award for Poetry, organized by the city council of Lyon, in east-central France.
The Moroccan author earned the award for his most-recent poetry book, “Presque riens” (Almost Nothing), published in October 2020.
The publication contains poems tackling a series of existential questions about life, according to the book’s publisher, Castor Astral.
Named after a famous Lyon-native poet, the Roger Kowalski Award for Poetry each year honors a living francophone poet who is connected to the city of Lyon. Laabi was eligible for nomination because his wife, Jocelyne, is a Lyon native. He is the first Moroccan to ever win the award.
Born in 1942 in Fez, Abdellatif Laabi is one of the most respected Moroccan francophone authors. He is most famous for his poems, as well as his translation into French of classic Arabic poems.
The writer studied French literature at the Mohammed VI University in Rabat. He then became a French language professor in the Moroccan capital.
In 1966, he created alongside fellow writers Mohammed Khair-Eddine and Mostafa Nissaboury the first ever Moroccan francophone poetry magazine, called “Souffles” (Breaths).
The group of authors used their pens to artistically denounce social and economic issues in Morocco. “Souffles” quickly became a favorite magazine for Moroccans inspired by the communist ideology.
In the late 1960s, Abdellatif Laabi engaged with the Party for Liberation and Socialism (PLS), a Moroccan communist party. A few years later, Laabi became a founding member of Marxist-Leninist movement Ila al-Amam (Moving Forward) — considered as illegal by the state.
During the period known in Morocco as the “Years of Lead” — famous for the state’s repression of political dissidents, Laabi was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He faced accusations of conspiring against the state through his magazine “Souffles.”
In 1980, Laabi left prison after an international campaign pressured Morocco to release political prisoners. Five years later, he decided to leave Morocco and live in France.
Abdellatif Laabi published a novel in 2003, “Le Chemin des ordalies” (The Path of Ordeals), where he shares memories from his experience in prison.
His wife Jocelyne published a similar book in 2004, “La Liqueur d’aloes” (Aloe Liqueur), narrating the same struggle, but from the perspective of the prisoner’s family.
After migrating to France, Laabi toned down his criticism of the Moroccan state. His writings focused more on the human condition.
The author has so far published 20 poetry books and five novels, along with tens of works translated from Arabic.