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Bowles, Paul (1910-1999)  

Gay American expatriate composer, writer, and translator Paul Bowles liked to examine sexuality from a dispassionate perspective for its psychological suggestiveness.

Bowles was born in New York on December 30, 1910. His father was a dentist who exhibited little warmth for his son; an inflexible man, he evoked responses of passive resistance and secrecy, characteristics that would mark Paul's life and writing. As a boy, Bowles had few friends and took refuge in fantasy writing. He matriculated at the University of Virginia, but academic life did not interest him, and he left for Paris abruptly in 1929. Although he soon returned to New York, from 1931 onward he would spend most of his life outside the United States.

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Bowles's literary reputation rests on his novels, but until he was thirty-five he showed more interest in musical composition and poetry. Aaron Copland was a mentor, and in France, he intrigued Gertrude Stein, though she thought he was no poet. But Bowles was gifted in a number of fields, and increasingly he spread his skills over several: music for plays and films, short stories, autobiography, travel writing, and translations.

In childhood, Bowles was fond of a homosexual uncle. During one stay-over with him, he happened to enter a room where men were dancing intimately together. His uncle's anger at his nephew hurt Bowles, who had not been alarmed at this sight, and the incident suggests Bowles's attitude to different sexual behavior: He liked to examine sexuality from a dispassionate perspective for its psychological suggestiveness. Such is the case in his most explicitly homosexual story, "Pages from Cold Point" (1947), in which a boy tries to seduce his father.

"Pages from Cold Point" marked a turning point in Bowles's life. In 1938, he had married Jane Auer, and in 1947, they went to live in Tangier. Jane Bowles had published Two Serious Ladies, and explored gay relationships in both her life and in her fiction.

Paul Bowles explored the psychological dimensions of relationships less directly, and many readers prefer to interpret his ground-breaking novel The Sheltering Sky (1949) in existentialist terms, even though it deals centrally with the extraordinary dynamic of his relationship with Jane--a dynamic to which the homosexuality of both is relevant.

With the arrival of the Bowleses, the Tangier cult developed rapidly. American writers and artists of the Beat Generation--William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and others--visited and socialized; the ambience of Tangier, as well as its toleration of experiments in drug use and sexual expression proved liberating and stimulating.

Jane Bowles, always on the edge of sexual scandal, died in 1973. Paul Bowles, though he continued to attract interesting figures and, in his discreet way, a cult following, was very stable, and continued to produce a stream of work until his death in 1999.

His translation work started with the Sartre classic No Exit (1958) but became more significant with his translations of previously unknown works by Moroccan writers Mohammed Mrabet, Mohamed Choukri and, subsequently, others.

Bowles's self-containment is signaled in his response to Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno's biography, which he attacked as being based on the testimony of "certain mischievous gossips." It should, however, be noted that several other texts about Tangier, its status as a cult-site, and Paul and Jane Bowles are even more "gossipy."

Patrick Holland


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Finlayson, Iain. Tangier: City of the Dream. London: Harper Collins, 1992.

Green, Michelle. The Dream at the End of the World: Paul Bowles and the Literary Renegades in Tangier. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.

Sawyer-Laucanno, Christopher. Paul Bowles: An Invisible Spectator. New York: The Ecco Press, 1990.

"Authorized Paul Bowles Website." www.paulbowles.org.


    Citation Information
    Author: Holland, Patrick  
    Entry Title: Bowles, Paul  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated May 5, 2005  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/bowles_p.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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