Paul Frederic Bowles (December 30, 1910 - November 18, 1999), was an American composer, Author, and traveler.

Childhood and youth

Paul Bowles was born in Jamaica, Queens, New York City to Rena (née Rennewisser) and Claude Dietz Bowles, a dentist. He spent his childhood at 108 Hardenbrook Avenue, then 207 De Grauw Avenue, and later 34 Terrace Avenue. His mother read Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe to him as a child, and Bowles made notebooks of writing and drawing throughout his childhood. One of these, a comic strip called "Bluey," was later published.

When Bowles was 8, his father bought a phonograph and classic records; Bowles was interested in jazz but such records were forbidden in the house. About this time his family bought a piano and Bowles studied theory, singing, and piano. He continued to keep a diary of imaginary goings-on during this time, and also wrote a daily newspaper. In 1922, at age 11, Bowles bought his first book of poetry, Arthur Waley's A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems. In high school he attended a performance of Stravinsky's Firebird at Carnegie Hall which made a profound impression.

Bowles entered the University of Virginia in 1928, where his interests included T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, Prokofiev, Duke Ellington, Gregorian chants, and the blues, and he published two items in transition. He also heard music by George Antheil and Henry Cowell. In April 1929 he dropped out of school to make his first trip to Paris where he worked as a switchboard operator for the Herald Tribune. He returned home in July and took a job at Duttons Bookshop in Manhattan. While employed at the store he began work on a book of fiction, Without Stopping (not to be confused with his later autobiography of the same title), which he never finished. At the insistence of his parents he returned to the University of Virginia, but he left the university in June 1931 without earning a degree..

France and New York

On a trip to France in 1931, Bowles became a part of Gertrude Stein's literary and artistic circle. On her advice, that summer he made his first visit to Tangier with his music teacher and friend, composer Aaron Copland. In Berlin, he met Stephen Spender and Christopher Isherwood. Isherwood later gave the name Bowles to the heroine of Goodbye to Berlin. The following year Bowles returned to North Africa and traveled throughout other parts of Morocco, the Sahara, Algeria and Tunisia. Throughout the next decade, Bowles composed a good body of music including sonatas, song cycles, and music for stage productions (including Doctor Faustus directed by Orson Welles, the orchestration for George Balanchine's Yankee Clipper at Lincoln Kirstein's request), and also made early recordings of North African music.

In 1938 he married author and playwright Jane Auer. After a brief sojourn in France they were prominent among the literary figures of New York throughout the 1940s, with Paul working under Virgil Thomson as a music critic at the New York Herald Tribune. His light opera The Wind Remains, based on a poem by García Lorca, was performed in 1943 with choreography by Merce Cunningham and conducted by Leonard Bernstein. In 1945 he unexpectedly began writing prose again, beginning with a few short stories including A Distant Episode. He also translated Jorge Luis Borges at this time, and his translation of the play No Exit (entitled Huis-clos in French) by Jean-Paul Sartre, directed by John Huston, won a Drama Critic's Award. The subsequent year, he received an advance for a novel, and began writing The Sheltering Sky, first published in England. The book quickly rose to the New York Times best-seller list when published by New Directions.

Tangier and elsewhere

Also in 1947, he moved permanently to Tangier, and his wife Jane followed him there in 1948. The Bowleses became icons of the American and European expatriates centered in Tangier. Here he concentrated on writing novels, short stories and travel pieces, and also wrote incidental music for nine plays presented by the American School of Tangier. Prominent literary friends saw Paul and Jane beginning in 1949, including Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal. The Beat writers Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Gregory Corso followed in the mid-1950s and early 1960s. In 1952 Bowles bought the tiny island of Taprobane, off the coast of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where he wrote much of his novel The Spider's House, returning to Tangier in the warmer months.

In 1961, Bowles began tape-recording and translating works of Moroccan authors and story-tellers including stories by Mohamed Choukri, Ahmed Yacoubi, Larbi Layachi (under the pseudonym Driss ben Hamed Charhadi), and Mohammed Mrabet. Oddly, Bowles spent one term at the English Department of the San Fernando Valley State College, (now California State University, Northridge) in 1968, lecturing on existentialism and the novel. Most of the time however, he remained in Tangier with brief interludes overseas. He also translated short stories and diary entries by Swiss adventurer and writer Isabelle Eberhardt (The Oblivion Seekers).

Later years

After the death of Jane Bowles in 1973 in Málaga, Spain, Bowles continued to live in Tangier, writing and receiving visitors to his modest apartment. He made a cameo appearance in the Bernardo Bertolucci film adaptation of his novel The Sheltering Sky in 1990. In 1995 Paul Bowles made a rare and final return to New York for a festival celebrating his music at the Lincoln Center and a symposium and interview held at the New School for Social Research.

Bowles died of heart failure at the Italian Hospital in Tangier on November 18, 1999 at the age of 88. He had been ill for some time with respiratory problems. The following day a full-page obituary appeared in The New York Times. Although he had lived in Morocco for 52 years, he was buried in Lakemont, New York, next to the graves of his parents and grandparents.

Selected writings

Bowles published fourteen short story collections, three volumes of poetry, numerous translations, travel articles and an autobiography. His writings are sometimes known for a sparse style with disturbing overtones. Paul Bowles also was a music ethnologist. He was fascinated with Moroccan traditional music, especially the mystic music of the religious Sufi brotherhoods like the jilala, gnaoua, aissaoua, hamadcha and others. In 1951 Bowles was introduced to the Master Musicians of Jajouka, having first heard the musicians when he and Brion Gysin attended a festival or moussem at Sidi Kacem. Bowles' continued association with the Master Musicians of Jajouka and their hereditary leader Bachir Attar is described in Paul Bowles' book, a diary entitled Days: A Tangier Journal.

In 1991 Bowles was awarded the Rea Award for the Short Story.


  • 1931 Sonata for Oboe and Clarinet
  • 1937 Yankee Clipper, ballet
  • 1941 Pastorela, ballet
  • 1944 The Glass Managerie, play
  • 1946 Cabin, words by Tennessee Williams, music by Paul Bowles
  • 1946 Concerto for Two Pianos
  • 1947 Sonata for Two Pianos
  • 1949 Night Waltz
  • 1953 A Picnic Cantata
  • 1955 Yerma, opera
  • 1979 Blue Mountain ballads, words by Tennessee Williams, music by Paul Bowles.


  • 1949 The Sheltering Sky
  • 1952 Let It Come Down
  • 1955 The Spider's House
  • 1966 Up Above the World
  • 1991 Too Far From Home

Collections of short stories

  • 1950 A Little Stone
  • 1950 The Delicate Prey and Other Stories
  • 1959 The Hours after Noon
  • 1962 A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard
  • 1967 The Time of Friendship
  • 1968 Pages from Cold Point and Other Stories
  • 1975 Three Tales
  • 1977 Things Gone & Things Still Here
  • 1979 Collected Stories, 1939-1976
  • 1982 Points in Time
  • 1988 Unwelcome Words: Seven Stories


  • 1933 Two Poems
  • 1968 Scenes
  • 1972 The Thicket of Spring
  • 1981 Next to nothing: collected poems, 1926-1977


Among his life's accomplishments were translations of stories from the oral tradition of native Moroccan storytellers including Mohammed Mrabet, Driss Ben Hamed Charhadi (Larbi Layachi), Abdeslam Boulaich, and Ahmed Yacoubi. He also translated the Moroccan author Mohamed Choukri.

  • 1964 A Life Full Of Holes, by Driss Ben Hamed Charhadi (Larbi Layachi)
  • 1968 Love With A Few Hairs, by Mohammed Mrabet
  • 1968 The Lemon, by Mohammed Mrabet
  • 1970 M'Hashish, by Mohammed Mrabet
  • 1974 The Boy Who Set the Fire, by Mohammed Mrabet
  • 1976 Look & Move On, by Mohammed Mrabet
  • 1976 Harmless Poisons, Blameless Sins, by Mohammed Mrabet
  • 1979 Five Eyes, by Abdeslam Boulaich, Mohamed Choukri, Larbi Layachi, Mohammed Mrabet, and Ahmed Yacoubi

Travel pieces and autobiography

  • 1957 Yallah, text by Paul Bowles, photos by Peter W. Haeberlin
  • 1963 Their Heads are Green, travel
  • 1972 Without stopping; an autobiography

Film appearances and interviews

  • Paul Bowles in Morocco (1970), produced and directed by Gary Conklin
  • In 1990 Bernardo Bertolucci adapted The Sheltering Sky into a film in which Bowles has a cameo role and provides partial narration.

Posthumous collections

  • 2002 The Sheltering Sky, Let It Come Down, The Spider's House (Daniel Halpern, ed. Library of America) ISBN 1-931082-19-7
  • 2002 Collected Stories and Later Writings (Daniel Halpern, ed. Library of America) ISBN 1-931082-20-0

External links

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