Born in 1922 to a prominent Damascene family, Salma Al- Haffar Al-Kowzbari was one of the foremost Arab woman novelists and defenders of women’s rights and equality. Her father, Lutfi al-Haffar, was a Syrian prime minister during the French Mandate, and subsequently an avid supporter of Syrian independence. Although she was born during a time when it was against social norms for women to attend school, she was able, with her father’s support, to receive excellent education in French and English at an elite Franciscan school in Damascus. Meanwhile, she studied and commanded Arabic under a distinguished Lebanese publisher, Mary Ajami, who encouraged her to write.
Al-Kowzbari published her first article at the age of 17 and had since written novels, short stories, and biographies in Arabic, and poetry in French. Following extensive travel in Latin America and Spain, she also gained interest in Spanish studies, particularly the Andalusian legacy. Her first book, an autobiography titled “Hala’s Diaries” (1950) was translated to French and was eventually followed by another autobiography, Amber and Ashes. In 2000, she wrote: “Spanish and Andalusian Memories with Nizar Kabbani and his Letters” in which she described her encounters with the late Arab poet. Her greatest passion, however, was to study the early 20th Century women’s rights heroine and literary figure, Mai Ziadeh. She spent 17 years researching Miss Ziadeh. She discovered previously unpublished documents, letters, and manuscripts from Ziadeh, including her two-decade correspondence with Kahlil Gibran. Her works on Ziadeh include “Mai Ziadeh and the Tragedy of Genius” (1961), “Accomplished Women” (1961) and “Blue Spark: Gibran’s Love Letters to Mai Ziadeh” (2004), which was co-translated and edited by Suheil Bushrui, into English, French, Spanish and Italian. Her last work “Lutfi Al-Haffar,” was a biography of her father.
Al-Kowzbari lived in Marbella, Spain, writing and lecturing in Arab and Western countries. In addition to the King Faisal International Prize for Arabic Literature, she received a medal from the Spanish government and the Mediterranean Literature Award from the University of Palermo for her Arabic and Andalusian studies.
Mrs. Salma Al-Kowzbari revised her father’s biography and re-published it in 1997. She died in Beirut in 2006, at the age of 83.
Salma Lutfi Al-Haffar AL-Kowzbari has made outstanding contributions within the prize category. This was exemplified by her book Mai Ziadah or The Tragedy of a Genius. This work had particular value because the author had used previously unpublished sources in presenting her precise documentation of the writer’s life and literary works.