Tangier, the city where Paul Bowles' reputation as one of the Twentieth century’s most international of American authors grew during his forty-plus year residence, will mark the centenary of his birth in 2010. The Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies – TALIM – along with the Spanish Instituto Cervantes and the French Institut du Nord, will organize a number of literary, musical, and cultural events in late October.
The Paul Bowles Estate is keeping track of the events worldwide marking Bowles’ Centenary year. Most, like “Do You Bowles?” are conclaves of Bowles scholars, and Tangier will have some of them too. But the Tangier angle is simply to mark the centenary in the city where Bowles chose to live the last half of his life, among many of the people – artists, writers, translators – who knew him and were close to him.
The list is impressive. Claude Nathalie Thomas, who translated most of his works into French, will lead a discussion with other Bowles translators on their particular art. Artists and photographers whose work is linked with that of Bowles will share their work. A stroll through Tangier places linked with Bowles – “Tangier to An Air of Bowles” – will originate at the Legation in the medina, which houses a Paul Bowles Room featuring his life and works inspired by Tangier.
TALIM’s principal contribution will be to feature a lesser-known aspect of Bowles’ life’s work, his collection of Moroccan folk music, à la the Woody Guthrie and Alan Lomax recordings for the Library of Congress. Indeed it is at the Library’s American Folk Life Center that Bowles’ Moroccan recordings, collected 1959-1960 with a Rockefeller Foundation grant, are housed. Bowles described his fieldwork in an amusing travel essay, part of his collection in Their Heads Are Green.
Much of the Tangier that existed during Bowles’ time – he lived there from the late 1940s to his death in 1999 – has of course been altered by the passage of time. When he first settled in the city, it was still an International Zone run by a city council appointed by major foreign countries, including the US. He experienced Morocco’s independence: The Spider’s House, a novel set in pre-independence Fez, deals with the tensions during the final years of French rule. Bowles saw the gradual decline of Tangier in the years after independence, and missed much of its rebirth under the rule of Mohamed VI, who ascended to the throne the year of Bowles' death.