Address of Somaya Ramadan
On the occasion of being awarded
The 2001 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature
for her novel Leaves of Narcisssus (Awraq al-narjis)
Some feelings are difficult to express: in short:
Deep gratitude. To find oneself celebrated and counted as one of that company of intelligent hearts and compassionate intellects. The worry of knowing the demands and expectations of such recognition: To be worthy of celebrating the rites of meaning at the altar of Arabic. To know that such is only one way of contributing to the human commitment to regenerate meaning every time, even as we deny it.
To comprehend totally that the celebration of those rites is often both threatened and threatening; for every regeneration of meaning is an act of defiance in the face of comfortable complacency, easy prejudice, and despair of humankind, in any language in any part of the world, and to trust that that is so.
To choose to believe that every time a meaning returns fresh to life with a difference, that the difference is the manifestation of an ever evolving world.
Lastly, never to lose sight through all this that one can aspire to no more and yet have no higher goal than to be a patiently aware being. For the old papyrus says, “the foolish soul” is ‘like unto a man who serves in the temple. He is like a tree that has grown in a forest. In a moment it loses its verdure and ends up in the fire. Whereas a man or a woman who is patiently aware (those who dream and know how to wait), such do set themsleves aside, even as fruitful trees growing in a garden. They mulitply their yeild and stand in the garden, their shade a splendor.”
Today, I stand under the shade of such a tree. On the bark, the name of Naguib Mahfouz has been engraved ninety times, and I know, that I am a shrub that has grown not in a forest, but in the heart of a language, and from the imagination of a culture that has given the world some of its most tender and most exact meanings, and some of its most sturdy trees.