BEIRUT: Newspaperman, dramatist, translator, poet and icon of Beirut’s avant-garde, Ounsi El Hage died Tuesday at the age of 76. The Lebanese daily An-Nahar reported he had been in frail health for the past two months.
Born in 1937, Hage was the son of journalist and translator Louis El Hage and Marie Akl, from the Jezzine village of Qaitouleh.
He was educated in Beirut, first at the Lycée Français, later at La Sagesse (aka Hikmeh) High School. Hage’s stories, essays and poems began to appear in literary magazines in 1954, when he was still a teenager.
Hage launched his journalistic career two years later when he was made director of the cultural page of Al-Hayat, which was then the Arabic-language sister publication of The Daily Star.
He later migrated to An-Nahar newspaper. He remained with that paper for years, editing the nonpolitical pages and transforming its daily cultural column into a daily cultural page. In 1964, Hage’s culture page grew into “Al-Mulhaq,” An-Nahar’s weekly cultural supplement. He edited the supplement for a decade, at first in collaboration with Chawki Abi Chakra.
Hage served as An-Nahar’s editor-in-chief from 1992 to 2003. Most recently, he worked as deputy editor at Al-Akhbar newspaper, where he contributed a weekly column until just before he passed away.
Hage continued publishing poetry throughout this period. With Youssef Khal and Adonis, he collaborated to found the poetry magazine Shiir in 1957. Shiir editions, the magazine’s publications wing, released “Lan,” Hage’s first collection of poetry (in Arabic) in 1960.
In the coming years Hage published five more anthologies of original poetry – “The Severed Head” (1963), “The Past of Forthcoming Days” (1965), “What Have you Made With the Gold, What Have you Done with the Rose” (1970), “The Messenger With Her Hair Long Until the Sources” (1975) and “The Banquet” (1994).
A selection of his poems has been translated into French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Armenian and Finnish.
“Flying Eternity,” a French-language anthology of his poetry supervised and introduced by Abdel Kader Janabi, was released in 1997 by Paris’ Actes Sud publishing house. A year later, a bilingual (German/Arabic) anthology of his work “Love and the Fox, Love and the Others” appeared in Berlin. The poetry was translated by Khaled al-Maali and Herbert Becker.
Over the course of his career, Hage also authored “Words, Words, Words,” a three-volume collection of essays in Arabic. Two volumes of “Khawatem,” his compilation of philosophical reflections and aphorisms, have also been published, with a third in production. A prolific author, Hage also leaves a wide range of as yet unpublished works.
In addition to his writing and editing work at An-Nahar, Hage simultaneously served as editor-in-chief of several other publications, including Al-Hasna magazine (in 1966) and Arab and International Nahar (1977-89).
Hage turned his hand to translation for the theater in 1963. Over the course of his professional life, he translated more than 10 works from the Western canon into Arabic, including plays by Shakespeare, Ionesco, Camus and Brecht. These theater pieces were staged by Lebanon’s dramaturgical elite – the Baalbek Festival School of Modern Acting well as such playwright-directors such as Nidal al-Ashkar, Roger Assaf and Berge Vaslian.
“I often told the same history,” Hage reflected during an interview with Contemporary Writings magazine (August/September 1999). “I don’t believe that it is of any interest to anyone. I have more remorse than achievements, and all that I have done I did without my knowledge.”
The author is survived by Layla Daou, his wife since 1957, and their children Nada and Louis.