Kanafani was born in Akka to a prominent lawyer and started his studies at Les Frères, a French missionary school in Jaffa.
His life changed significantly when he was twelve: After his family’s displacement to Beirut and then Syria in 1948, he continued his studies in Syria’s public schools, where he got a UNRWA teaching certificate. He attended Damascus University, where he studied in the Arabic literature department until, according to a profile that ran in As-Safir, he was expelled for political reasons.
Initially, Kanafani worked as a teacher, leaving Damascus to work in Kuwait for five years as an Arts and PE teacher. Then, according to translator and scholar Roger Allen, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)’s George Habash helped persuade Kanafani to move to Beirut, where the author worked on the al-Horria newspaper, and later al-Moharrer and al-Anwar, before becoming the well-known editor-in-chief of the PFLP’s weekly newspaper, al-Hadaf.
Even before he left to teach in Kuwait, Kanafani was writing and publishing stories. According to Kuwaiti writer Mai al-Nakib, Kanafani’s “The Stolen Shirt” won the Kuwait Literary Prize in 1958, when Kanafani was just twenty-two. His Men in the Sun, one of his most popular and acclaimed works, was originally published in 1956, followed by All That’s Left to You, Return to Haifa, and a number of other important works, including four collections of short stories.
When Kanafani was assassinated in Beirut on July 8, 1972, he was just 36.
“While it is true that his life was brief,” Rasem al-Madhoon wrote in an essay translated by Nehad Khader, “it was also rich in the literature that he offered. A significant landmark of his literary, journalistic, and political journey was his preoccupation with the broader Palestinian national struggle and all of its demands; as was his persistence in penning short texts regularly. Ghassan’s friends remember his regular visits to Farouq Cafe in central Damascus.”
Kanafani’s texts are still read, staged, discussed, debated, and incorporated into new works, as in Susan Abulhawa’s Mornings in Jenin and the short film Qarar Mujaz, or A Brief Conclusion.
“The Stolen Shirt,” trans. Michael Fares
“Jaffa: Land of Oranges,” trans. Mona Anis and Hala Halim
Excerpts from Return to Haifa, trans. Barbara Harlow and Karen E. Riley
“Letter from Gaza,” translator not listed.
Books in translation
Men in the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories, translated by Kilpatrick
Palestine’s Children: Returning to Haifa & Other Stories, translated by Harlow and Riley
All That’s Left to You, translated by May Jayyusi and Jeremy Reed
“Ghassan Kanafani: The Symbol of the Palestinian Tragedy,” by Rasem al-Madhoon, trans. Khader
“Remembering Ghassan Kanafani,” by Elias Khoury, trans. Maia Tabet