Ramsey Nasr (b. 1974, Rotterdam) is a poet and author, actor and director. In 2000 he made his poetry debut with the collection 27 gedichten & Geen lied (27 Poems & No Song), which was nominated for both the C. Buddingh’ Prize and the Hugues C. Pernath Prize. A year later came his debut as a prose writer with the novella Kapitein Zeiksnor & De Twee Culturen (Captain Sourpuss & The Two Cultures), followed by Twee libretto’s (Two Libretti) in 2002. He then moved to De Bezige Bij, where he published his second book of poetry, onhandig bloesemend (awkwardly flowering) in the spring of 2004. This collection, awarded the Hugues C. Pernath Prize, went through several reprints. The latest edition includes a CD of the poet reading his own verse.
Nasr was named city poet of Antwerp in 2005 and quickly won the hearts of the Flemish people. He aimed from the start to write poems of interest not only to the people of Antwerp but to an audience far beyond the boundaries of the city. This broad approach was reiterated in his third collection, onze-lieve-vrouwe-zeppelin (our-lady-zeppelin) in 2006, which includes all his Antwerp poems along with detailed commentary and historical photographs of the city. This collection too has been widely praised.
In the many articles and opinion pieces he has written for the Dutch and Flemish media, Nasr reveals himself as a man of many passions. They arise from a love of art – classical music, theatre, poetry – as well as serious engagement with contemporary politics. One issue particularly close to his heart is the conflict between Israel and Palestine. An extensive selection of his articles on art and politics was published in 2006 at the same time as onze-lieve-vrouwe-zeppelin, under the title Van de vijand en de muzikant (Of the Enemy and the Musician).
In 2006 Ramsey Nasr has been awarded the prize of Journalist for Peace by the Humanistic Peace Council (Humanistisch Vredesberaad). The jury’s report among other things mentioned: “With his talents Ramsey Nasr has contributed to the process of understanding between eastern and western cultures by critically testing rigid prejudices. In doing so he contributes to a culture of peace, nonviolence en justice."
Nasr has frequently performed as a writer and poet at festivals such as Crossing Border, De Nachten, Saint-Amour, De Nacht van de Poëzie, and Poetry International. Abroad too he has undertaken various poetry tours. Along with several prominent Dutch poets he made a trip to Indonesia (Java and Sulawesi) in 2002. For the Winternachten Literary Festival he travelled to Indonesia again in 2005, this time to Java and Sumatra, and in 2007 he went to Aruba and the Dutch Antilles (St. Maarten, Bonaire, Curaçao) with the same organization. He was also invited by the Belgian Consulate in Jerusalem to read his poetry in towns and cities including Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus and Jerusalem in late 2005. Literary journeys like these, as well as several visits to Spain, are reflected in the essay collection Van de vijand en de muzikant.
Aside from his literary work, Nasr is also a gifted actor and director. In 1995 he graduated from the drama school Studio Herman Tierlinck in Antwerp with a monologue he composed himself, De doorspeler (The Wannaplay). This impressive theatrical work won him the prize for best actor at the International Drama School Festival in Amsterdam (the Philip Morris Scholarship Award). After graduating he acted with Het Zuidelijk Toneel for five years, under the direction of Ivo Van Hove. He ended his period with the company in the spring of 2000 with a new theatrical monologue, Geen lied (No Song). The writing and performance of this play won him the Mary Dresselhuys Prize and the Taalunie Playwright’s Prize in 2000. He was also nominated for the Louis d’Or. His many performances with Het Zuidelijk Toneel included appearances in Caligula and Romeo and Juliet, in which he played Romeo, and during those years he travelled to Palestine (1996) and Jordan (2001, for the Amman International Theatre Festival) to stage an English-Arabic version of De doorspeler called The Wannaplay.
Nasr’s debut as a poet came with his departure from Het Zuidelijk Toneel. His first collection, 27 Gedichten & Geen lied, was published to coincide with the premiere of his theatrical monologue in verse, Geen lied. Since then Nasr has appeared on stage only rarely, dedicating himself primarily to writing. He has played parts in a number of films, however, including De man met de hond (1998), Mariken (2000), Liefje (2001), Magonia (2001) and Het Echte Leven (2008). In 2002 he took the central role in the three-part television series
As well as his own monologues, Nasr directs musical theatre. He wrote the libretto for Leven in Hel – de operette (Life in Hell – the operetta) in 2001, he directed the production and when it returned to the stage in 2003 he acted and sang the role of Hades. In 2002, immediately after the premiere of Leven in Hel, Nasr translated and directed Mozart’s youth opera Il Re Pastore (The Shepherd King) and in 2006 he took on a second Mozart opera, the Singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio). This time he substantially rewrote the dialogues and retranslated the singing parts. Composer Wim Henderickx created a new arrangement and wrote new music for the orchestra, the Beethoven Academie conducted by Koen Kessels; Nasr directed opera singers alongside actors (including Jan Decleir, Els Dottermans and Annet Malherbe) and a classical Arabic singer (Najib Cherradi). Under the title Een Totale Entführung (A Total Abduction) the production had its premiere in deSingel in Antwerp in September 2006. It was selected for performance at the Theatre Festival 2007 and at the Edinburgh International Festival. Nasr’s text for Een Totale Entführung was published by Uitgeverij Demian in Antwerp with drawings by Jan Decleir.
In late April 2007, along with Tom Lanoye en Bart Moeyaert, Ramsey Nasr received an honorary doctorate for general merit from the University of Antwerp. All three received this distinction for their work as city poets of Antwerp.
Since October 2007 a remarkable CD has been available: Sonata, a collaboration between viola player Susanne van Els, pianist and conductor Reinbert de Leeuw, and Ramsey Nasr. The CD begins with a recording of the sonata for viola and piano by Dmitri Shostakovich, performed by Van Els and De Leeuw. The second half of the CD consists of a (new) recording of the poem wintersonate (winter sonata), from the collection onhandig bloesemend (awkwardly flowering), based on Shostakovich’s viola sonata. Nasr has a special relationship with this composer and an interview on the subject can be found in the accompanying booklet, which also includes an essay by musicologist Elmer Schönberger and the English translation of winter sonata.
November 2008 saw the publication of Homo safaricus, a diary Nasr kept during an expedition to Tanzania. In July 2008, at the invitation of the University of Antwerp, Nasr accompanied 35 biology students on a trip to Tanzania, where they carried out fieldwork for the first time. The Belgian television channel Canvas made a five-part documentary series about the expedition called Wildcard: Tanzania, centred on Nasr’s diary. Both the series and the book were extremely well received. Homo safaricus is the outcome of an encounter between a city dweller and the open country, between biology and art. Autumn 2010, a new edition of this documentary series was broadcasted on both Dutch and Belgian television. This time Nasr followed medicine students on a humanitarian mission in Burma/Myanmar. The travelling diary he kept during this journey called In de gouden buik van Boeddha has been published by De Bezige Bij in October 2010.
In 2010 Heavenly Life was published. Heavenly Life is the first English-language collection of the work of Ramsey Nasr, translated by award-winning David Colmer and published by Banipal Books. The poems in Heavenly Life were selected by Ramsey Nasr from his collections and from works written as poet laureate. With an introduction by Victor Schiferli and foreword by Ruth Padel. Visit this website for more information about this book and an interview with Ramsey Nasr.
On January 27th 2009 Nasr became Poet laureate of the Netherlands, an office he will hold for four years. The first poem Nasr wrote in this capacity was inspired by Johannes Vermeer’s painting “Woman Holding a Balance”. The painting could be seen in the Rijksmuseum until June 2009, on loan from the National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Because of the publication of Mijn nieuwe vaderland ("My new native country"), a collection of poetry he wrote as poet laureate of the Netherlands, Ramsey Nasr was interviewed by Radio Netherlands Worldwide. You can read the interview here.
All Nasrs poems on the Netherlands can be found and read on this website.