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Saadi Youssef (1934-2021): The last communist
Published in Ahram Online on 15 - 06 - 2021

The celebrated Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef passed away last Sunday at the age 87 at his house in Harefield, London after a long struggle with illness.
Born in the village of Abi Al-Khassib near Basra in 1934, he studied Arabic literature in Baghdad and worked s a literary critic. Youssef was an author, journalist and publisher as well as an activist and a poet. He was stylistically influenced by the free verse movement and the work of such poets as Shathel Taqa and Abdel-Wahab Al-Bayyati, while the content of his work was influenced by the political realities in which he was involved in politics at a very early age. He translated some very significant works by such poets as Federico García Lorca, Oktay Rifat, Melih Cevdet Anday, Yiannis Ritsos, Walt Whitman and Constantine Cavafy. He also translated novels by George Orwell, Wole Soyinka and Kenzaburō Ōe.
Youssef was a prolific poet throughout his life, publishing over 40 collections including Qassaid Mareiyah (Visible Poems, 1969), Lakhdar Bin Youssef wa Mashaghilih (Lakhdar Bin Youssef and His Concerns, 1971), Ashjaru Ithaka (The Trees of Ithaca, 1992) and Al-Shuyou'i Al-Akhir (The Last Communist, 2007). His work also included fiction, criticism and memoir, and his poetry was translated into many languages, notably into English by Sinan Antoon with Peter Money and Khaled Mattawa (in print with Graywolf Press).
After his exile from Iraq for his political activities, Youssef lived in many countries: Kuwait, Algeria, Lebanon, France and Greece before settling in London.
Youssef received the Al Owais Prize for poetry in 2004, in 2005 he won the Italian International Prize, and in 2007 he participated in the PEN World Voices Festival. Youssef's poems were forbidden from the Kurdish school curriculum by the Kurdistan Regional Government in 2014.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 June, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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