Composer, author, and translator Paul Bowles was born in Queens, New York, and began writing music and poetry at an early age, studying theory, voice and piano. He started publishing poetry as a teenager. Bowles entered the University of Virginia in 1929 but, after only a few months, took a leave to work in Paris, where he wrote for the Paris Herald Tribune, before returning to his studies the following year. Bowles studied privately with Aaron Copland during his second year at the University of Virginia and followed Copland to Paris when he emigrated; as a result, Bowles did not earn a degree from the University of Virginia, nor from any other institution.
While in Paris, Bowles became a part of Gertrude Stein’s literary and artistic circle. He first visited Tangier, Morocco, a city with which he would eventually become strongly associated, in 1931. From 1931-1936, he spent his time traveling between Morocco and western Europe. He returned to New York in 1937, where he spent the greater part of the next decade establishing a reputation as a composer, writing music for more than 30 theatrical productions and films and collaborating with the likes of George Balanchine, Joseph Losey, Leonard Bernstein, Elia Kazan, Arthur Koestler, José Ferrer, Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, William Saroyan and Tennessee Williams. He also began composing orchestral pieces. In 1947, Bowles returned to Tangier, where he spent the remainder of his life. He published two novels over the next five years. Bowles began recording traditional Moroccan music and music from different ethnic groups in the country, including the Sephardic Jewish communities of Meknes and Essaouira. He also worked as a translator of works by Moroccan authors and storytellers (Mohamed Choukri, Ahmed Yacoubi, Larbi Layachi, and Mohammed Mrabet) into English.
Bowles wrote between 50 and 100 musical compositions during his lifetime, including a number of concertos, sonatas, and incidental music for theater and film. Some of his most notable scores include Six Preludes for Piano, Concerto for 2 Pianos, Winds, and Percussion, a Symphonic Suite, an opera entitled The Wind Remains, Picnic Cantata for Four Women’s Voices, a ballet entitled Pastorela: First Suite, and the Blue Mountain Ballads. He wrote seven novels, including The Sheltering Sky, Let It Come Down, and The Spider’s House, over 50 pieces of short fiction, more than 15 short stories, a handful of poems, and over 30 translations of various texts into English. Bowles later taught writing workshops at the American School of Tangier. He died from heart failure at an Italian hospital in Tangier on November 19, 1999, at the age of 88. Bowles is considered one of the major creative figures to have shaped 20th-century literature and music. His work has received praise from writers such as Gore Vidal, among others, and he and was awarded the Rea Award for the Short Story in 1991.