History : When American intellectuals chose Tangier as an exile

During the mid 50s, Tangier has hosted a number of artists, poets and intellectuals. Influenced by Paul Bowles, an American writer, members of the Beat Generation, came to the Northern city to get inspired, finish their projects and live the Moroccan dream. Flashback.

Sitting in front are Peter Orlovsky and Paul Bowles behind them stand William Burroughs Allen Ginsberg./Ph. DR
Estimated read time: 3'

Morocco has been one of the best destinations for Rock stars in the 60s and 70s. They came to get inspired, enjoy the sunlight and live the Moroccan dream. However, the Kingdom’s reputation has managed to tempt other artists and literary figures. Today, Yabiladi is recalling the visits of the Beat Generation best-known writers to the Kingdom.

Members of the literary movement remembered for influencing the American culture and politics in the post-World War II era, fell in love with Morocco and most precisely Tangier. In the mid forties and fifties, Paul Bowles, Peter Orlovesky, Irwin Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs stayed in the Northern city, writing, translating and enjoying what Tangier had to offer.

Paul Bowles' love affair with Tangier

The city of Tangier was most known to Americans by Paul Frederic Bowles, an American expatriate composer, writer and translator.  He visited Tangier for the first time in 1931 where he was hooked on the spot. In 1947, Bowles settled down in the coastal city with his wife Jane where he produced numerous musical scores, novels, short stories, travel pieces and dozens of translations of stories by Moroccan storytellers.

Paul Bowles wearing a Djellaba in Tangier./Ph. DRPaul Bowles wearing a Djellaba in Tangier./Ph. DR

According to Travel Exploration, Paul Bowles «wrote many short stories and novels such as Let It Come Down, centered on the Moroccan city and the corruption of life under the international zone».

He also wrote «the Spider's House which he used in 1954 during the holy month of Ramadan, to explore the shifting relationship between the colonial power of the French and the rising tide of Moroccan nationalism».

As reported by historical accounts, Paul lived 52 of his 88 years in Tangier, the city he loved the most, even after the death of his wife. He became strongly identified with the city and was a magnet that made other American rising writers and intellectuals make the city one of their important travel destinations.

The Beat Movement writers in Tangier

Here we are taking about the Beat movement, who were fascinated by Bowles' happy life in the northernmost city of the Kingdom. The first to visit the town was William Borroughs, an American writer and artist, who moved to Tangier and stayed in a rented room, inspired by his fellow countryman.

In November 1954, he returned to Tangier, escaping a tragic event that changed his life. According to the same platform, «in 1951, tragedy struck and Burroughs accidentally shot his wife to death in Mexico while they were playing a drunken game at a party».

To flee the tragic accident, Burroughs found refuge in Morocco. He «moved to Tangier in 1954 where he indulged in a hippy lifestyle and spent four years working on the Naked Lunch».

Inspired by their fellow, the American novelist and poet, Jack Kerouac followed the trend. Based on the account provided by Paul Bowles organization’s website, «in 1957, Jack Kerouac arrived in Tangier to visit with Burroughs and help him type various manuscripts, but he stayed only one month».

Peter Orlovsky and Allan Ginsberg

Not far from that, Peter Orlovsky, an American poet and actor and his companion Irwin Allen Ginsberg, an American poet, philosopher, and writer followed visiting the charming city. In a book entitled «Peter Orlovesky, a Life in Words : Intimate Chronicles of a Beat Writer» (Paradigm Publishers, 2014) by Peter Orlovesky and Bill Morgan, the Beat Generation member describes his trip to Morocco.

William Burroughs adjusting his glasses in Tangier./ Ph. DRWilliam Burroughs adjusting his glasses in Tangier./ Ph. DR

«On Friday, March 22, 1957, Peter and Allen arrived in Tangier, where William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac met them at the dock», said the same book. «By the time they arrived, Kerouac had been there for more than a month working on Burroughs’ manuscripts of what would eventually become Naked Lunch», explained the poet adding that :

«Jack was eager to leave for France and Allen and Peter decided to move into his hotel room mat the villa Muniria once he left».

From his small room in Villa Muniria, Peter Orlovsky wrote long and detailed letters to his mother, friends and family members. In his writings he described the city, and the people. By June, Peter and his partner left the city leaving Borroughs behind.

Peter Orlovsky, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, members of the Beat Generation, a literary and artistic movement, are not only come to enjoy the beach in Tangier./Ph. DRPeter Orlovsky, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, members of the Beat Generation, a literary and artistic movement, are not only coming to enjoy the beach in Tangier./Ph. DR

The reputation of Tangier as a city of inspiration, extended to reach other artists such as Brion Gysin, a British painter, writer, sound poet, and performance artist who moved to Tangier in 1950 where he co-founded with Mohamed Hamri a restaurant called 'The 1001 Nights' with the Master Musicians of Joujouka from the village of Jajouka. «The musicians performed there for an international clientèle that included William S. Burroughs», indicates Travel Exploration.

Visited once by well-known artists, painters, poets and thinkers, Tangier is still one of Morocco’s most authentic cities. It hosted for years several known figures that flourished during their stays there. 

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