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Abdellatif Laâbi, poet, novelist, playwright, translator, and political activist, was born in Fez, Morocco in 1942. He was the founder of Souffles, a left-leaning literary review banned by the Moroccan government in 1972. An outspoken critic of the authoritarian and theocratic regimes of the Maghreb, Laâbi was imprisoned in Morocco for eight years and later exiled to France. Deemed by Amnesty International a prisoner of conscience, Laâbi received the Prix de la Liberté and the Prix International de Poésie while imprisoned. He went on to receive the Prix Robert Ganzo de Poésie in 2008, the Prix Goncourt de la Poésie for his Œuvre complète in 2009, and the Grand Prix de la Francophonie from the Académie Française in 2011.

In Praise of Defeat

Archipelago Books
2017 Shortlist
United States

Judges’ Citation

In this bilingual book (Laâbi’s original French and Nicolson-Smith’s English) – a book that is monumental both in size (over 800 pages) and in scope – we meet one of the major poets of our time, one who has lived through great and catastrophic events and responded to them with a passionate intelligent humanity.

In this bilingual book (Laâbi’s original French and Nicolson-Smith’s English) – a book that is monumental both in size (over 800 pages) and in scope – we meet one of the major poets of our time, one who has lived through great and catastrophic events and responded to them with a passionate intelligent humanity. Laâbi can move from the simplest short poems about the delights of the body to complex meditations on war, violence and prison. That he does so in such an open, generous voice (so well communicated by the dedicated translator, since this must have been an epic labour of love for him) is one of the admirable aspects of Laâbi’s mind and art. The rhetorical pitch is perfectly judged. There is nothing glib about the eloquence, nor is there anything uncontrolled or self-indulgent about the fury when it rises. The poems are public in the best sense in that they address the reader as an equal, not as from a tower but in the street. The interest in Laâbi’s work is intense and growing and other fine books of translations from his work have become available. But this is a landmark.