Suheil Bushrui – foremost translator and interpreter of Anglo-Irish literature in the Arab world

An Appreciation

Suheil Bushrui

Suheil Bushrui

 

Suheil Bushrui, who has passed away in the United States, was a true lover of Irish literature and a Yeats scholar of international repute. For Suheil, Yeats echoed the poetic cadences of his other great literary love, Khalil Ghibran, and he expended much of his enormous scholarly energy in promoting understanding and appreciation of these two great writers.

Over time, Suheil came to be regarded as the foremost translator and interpreter of Anglo-Irish literature in the Arab world and published critical studies in Arabic and English on WB Yeats, John Millington Synge, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. He was one of a few scholars to spend time with Beckett in Paris, and he would sometimes recount how they together discussed Waiting for Godot, its intricacies and underlying themes, the youthful enthusiasm of an Arab student of Irish literature a source of intrigue for the reclusive genius. His charm and courteous manner also endeared him to George (Georgie) Yeats, who agreed to an interview in the course of Suheil’s doctoral research.

Between 1985 and 1986, he served as chairman of the International Association for the Study of Anglo-Irish Literature and from 1971 to 1986 he was president of the Association of University Teachers of English in the Arab World.

Suheil was the first Arab national to be appointed as chair of English at the American University of Beirut, where he was a faculty member from 1968 to 1983. He loved Beirut but circumstances brought him to the United States where he became a long-time resident. There he founded the Kahlil Gibran Research and Studies Project at the University of Maryland, which was the first academic forum in the world devoted to the preservation of Gibran’s legacy and the promotion of East-West intercultural relations. Latterly, he held the Bahá’í Chair for World Peace in the Centre for International Development and Conflict Management at the university. He was committed to peace building and interfaith understanding and a source of great inspiration for generations of students.

Of his publications connected to Ireland, he was particularly pleased with his compilation The Wisdom of the Irish (2003), excerpts from Irish writing old and new, including all the greats but also a favourite of his, the lesser known early Irish Bahá’í writer, George Townshend. He was especially pleased his friend Brendan Kennelly wrote an eloquent introduction to the volume.

In the late 1970s Suheil was regularly present at the Yeats Summer School in Sligo and a contributor at the annual Bahá’í Summer School which, in those years, was held in Waterford.

It was there that I first met Suheil and quickly grew to admire and appreciate his great gifts, his warmth and special ability to inspire a love for learning. Since that time our paths have crossed intermittently, including in later years his all too infrequent visits to these shores. But he would often phone, out of the blue, from wherever he was travelling in the world, regale with stories and posit once more his theory around the great affinity he felt between the Irish and the Arabs whose poetic souls he regarded as twins. Each conversation was golden.

Suheil was a devoted adherent of the Bahá’í Faith and on his passing, its world governing body, the Universal House of Justice, wrote movingly of him: “What distinguished his extraordinary record of academic and other accomplishments was the radiance of a sterling character illumined by attributes of the soul.”

His dear wife Mary and family are very much in our thoughts and prayers.