Georges Schéhadé

poet and writer

Mysterious Coachman from the Land of A Thousand and One Nights - According to Jean-Louis Barrault (Copyright, Lebanese Imprints on the Twentieth Century, Volume I, Asma Freiha and Viviane Ghanem, 2006)

Georges Schéhadé was born on the 2nd of November 1905 in Alexandria where his father Elias, a broker, and his mother Lisa Chikhani had settled after leaving Lebanon. The family decided to return to Lebanon in 1920 since Elias, having lost much of his fortune after some poor speculative decisions, was also beginning to lose his sight. They settled in Achrafieh where Georges was put through Commercial Studies at the Collège du Sacré Coeur by his uncles Gabriel and Michel, all the while continuing to write poetry and plays. He was then admitted to the Law School at Saint Joseph University where he obtained his degree before carrying on to an internship in a law firm and a job at the Ministry of Justice. While on a summer holiday in Bickfaya in 1929, he wrote Rodogune Sinne, which was later printed by the author in 1942 and then published in 1947 by GLM.

In 1930, he was made assistant to the Director of Public Prosecution, Gabriel Bounoure, an author and literary critic who was later to join the French Administration. Bounoure took Georges under his wing and helped him publish his poetry in a journal of French poetry, the Paris based 'Commerce'. These poems were later edited in a collection entitled Poesies I.

Georges traveled to Italy and Paris for the first time in 1933, when he befriended Saint-John Perse, Max Jacob and Jules Supervielle. In 1938, GLM published Poésies and Georges was commissioned by the wife of General Huntziger, General-Commander in Chief of troops in the Levant, to produce an impromptu poem for the Officer's Ball. He wrote Chagrin d'Amour in just a few days, and it was only ever published by Le Jour, the French-language daily newspaper in Lebanon.

In 1939, he wrote Monsieur Bob'le a play that was finally premiered on the 30th of January 1951, its production having been delayed by the Second World War. Directed by Georges Vitaly at the theater 'de la Huchette', the play was a highly controversial one. André Breton, Gérard Philippe, René Char and Henri Pichette all lined up in public defense of the author.

When Bounoure founded the Ecole Supérieure des Lettres in Beirut in 1944, he asked Georges Schéhadé to become its general secretary, a post he was to keep until 1949. In that time he traveled to France twice, once in 1946 when he befriended Pierre Jean Jouve, Chagall and Max-Pol Fouchet. On the return journey, he met and fell in love with Brigitte Collerais. The second trip was in 1948, when he met André Breton, Paul Eluard and a whole circle of authors, poets and artists including Cioran, René Char, Julien Gracq, Octavio Paz, Samuel Beckett, Eugène Lonesco, Andrée Chédid, Georges Buis and Gaetan Picon. Those were the heady days when the surrealists met at the Café de la Place Blanche. That year he also published Poésies II with GLM.

While in Paris he also had a temporary position at UNESCO and in 1949 published Poesies III, again with GLM. In 1950 he published Poésie Zéro ou L'Ecolier Sultan, a collection of poems he had begun to write as early as 1928.
He married Brigitte Collerais on the 8th of March 1951 with Georges Buis, Andrée Chédid and Gaetan Picon as witnesses; they had one son, Elie Philippe.

From 1952 onwards, he published his work with Gallimard, beginning with Poésies. His play La Soirée des Proverbes was published in 1954, having been directed by Jean-Louis Barrault and performed at the Theater Marigny on the 30th of January of that year. That same year, his homage to Jules Supervielle entitled Portrait de Jules appeared in Paris in the August edition of the NRF, and he wrote Le Récit de l'An Zéro in the Chistmas edition of the L'Orient newspaper in Lebanon.

In 1955, the Lebanese Association of Book Lovers published an edition of La Soirée des Proverbes, illustrated by Farid Aouad and printed in a run of only 200 copies.

In 1956, his play Histoire de Vasco was premiered in Zurich at the Schausipielhaus Theater, directed by Jean-Louis Barrault. The play met with such success that the actors took 33 curtain calls on the opening night. The play was published by Gallimard in 1957 and played on the 8th of August 1957 at the Baalbeck International Festival and on the 1st of October at the Sarah Bernhardt theatre in Paris. There, its antimilitaristic message launched a huge debate in the French press even as the war in Algeria was raging.

In 1958 he wrote the screenplay for the film Goha, directed by Jacques Baratier and starring Omar Sharif; the film won the International Critics Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

He was named artistic advisor to the cultural mission of the French Embassy in Lebanon in 1960 and in that year published the play Les Violettes with Gallimard. The play was produced in German at the Schauspielhaus theatre in Bochum, directed by Hans Schalla. It was also produced in French, directed by Roland Monod at the Festival of Chalon sur Saone in 1966 and directed by Gilles Guillot at the Montpensier theatre in Versailles in December 1984.

In 1961, his play Voyage was published by Gallimard and directed by Jean-Louis Barrault in February at L'Odéon theatre.
In 1965, he wrote l'Emigré de Brisbane which was first produced in Munich at the Residenztheater, directed by Kurt Meisel and than in November 1967 at the Comédie-Française in Paris directed by Jacques Mauclair:

All these works have been translated into German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Slovenian, Danish, Japanese and of course Arabic, and performed on stages throughout Asia, Europe and in North and South America.

In 1967 President Senghor invited him to Dakar for a performance of l'Emigré de Brisbane.
In 1969 he decided to return to Beirut where Brigitte Schéhadé opened her own gallery exhibiting works by some of the greatest artists of the time such as Max Ernst and André Masson.

He published Poésies V in the Paris based journal La Délirante in 1972 and in 1973 published L'Habit Fait le Prince, a pantomime written in 1957, with Gallimard.

When the war broke out in Lebanon in 1975, he decided to remain in the country. He was invited to be a member of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1976, with Tennessee Williams, Mario Vargas Llosa, Costa-Gavras and the artist Carzou. He returned to Lebanon in June.

The Pompidou Centre in Paris devoted an evening in homage to him on the 16th of June 1977 and in November of that same year, an anthology was published by Ramsay entitled Anthologies du Vers Unique.

Very affected by the death of his mother in Beirut in 1978 and losing hope that war in Lebanon would end soon, he decided to return to Paris and settle there once again.

In 1985 he began writing Poésies VII, which was to remain unfinished and Gallimard published his book, Le Nageur d'un Seul Amour: It was last work to be published before his death.

In 1986 the Académie Française awarded him the Grand Prix de la Francophonie; he was the first winner of this prestigious prize and was invited by Canada's Royal Society to participate in the Francophone Summit held in Quebec in 1987.
He died in Paris on the 17th of January 1989 and was buried in Montparnasse Cemetery.