Karim Alrawi

Biography and research courtesy of the undergraduate UNESCO City of Literature research class

Karim Alrawi was born in Alexandria, Egypt. He was raised in Egypt until his family moved to England where he completed high school and college. Alrawi received his engineering degree from the University College London, and while in England, went on to pursue his PhD in engineering. When he realized that playwriting was his passion, he ultimately left school after being given the opportunity to work as a resident writer at the Royal Court Theatre and the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Alrawi’s lifetime collection of work includes a wide range of genres from plays to children’s books to political novels. Some of Alrawi’s notable works are The Girl Who Lost Her Smile (2000), The Mouse Who Saved Egypt (2010), A Colder Climate (1986), Migrations (1986), Promised Land (1989), Fire in the Lake (1989), A Gift of Glory (1999), and Killing Time (2001). Alrawi has won many national and international awards for his writing. He has won ten awards for his plays including the prestigious “John Whiting Award” for Migrations in 1983. His children’s book The Girl Who Lost Her Smile won the “Parents Magazine Gold Award” in 2002. Alrawi also became part of the Fulbright International Scholar-in-Residence Program in 1994.

Alrawi produced his first full length play, Migrations, while working as both a resident writer and the Literary Manager of the Theatre Royal Stratford East,. He then produced his second play, A Colder Climate, at the Royal Court Theatre and his next three plays were produced for the Joint Stock Theatre, one of England’s major touring companies. Alrawi explained that the medium was his true passion because he could watch his work come to life with live actors and an audience; it allowed everyone to share a live experience. During this time, he also worked for the British Broadcasting Company and wrote radio and television scripts. After writing for the British Broadcasting Company and a few television shows, Alrawi traveled back to Egypt to teach in the theatre department at the American University. 

Though Alrawi has achieved this documented success, he has also faced challenges within his career. One of his biggest challenges was his problem with censorship while he was in Egypt working as a playwright. The state censor was in charge of editing and changing productions to make sure they were following government standards. The censor of Alrawi’s play wanted to edit large parts because he viewed them as inappropriate for the general public to see. Alrawi did not understand why his plays were getting censored; they did not involve controversial political content or pornography. After meeting and disagreeing with the censor multiple times, Alrawi decided to get involved with the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, which was just starting at the time. He wanted the organization to be aware of the problems he was having with the censor, and he wanted all of the problems documented, in case something happened or a situation got out of control. Alrawi continued to have problems with the censor, who kept deleting lines from his plays and even cut parts of the plays out after the production had been seen by an audience.

Eventually, Alrawi decided to make his play “private” by only opening his doors to a private alley instead of a public setting such as a sidewalk, not advertising in public settings, and not charging for tickets (but having a donation box). He used this loophole to get around having the censor monitor his plays. The censor did not appreciate this and called Alrawi with threats; mainly a threat of arrest. He also sent a letter which said Alrawi’s writing was “an insult to the Egyptian people; the state of Egypt, its history, and civilization.” Alrawi decided to make these threats public and contacted the media about the tyrant censor. His back and forth arguments with the censor finally led to Alrawi’s arrest and interrogation.

During the time he was having problems with the state censor, Alrawi was simultaneously involved with the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights. He became a spokesperson for the EOHR and did a lot of volunteer work for the organization since they had limited funding. He worked with different media outlets to expose human rights violations and show how censorship was going overboard in Egypt. In addition to his work with the EOHR, Alrawi has been involved in many different theatres around the world.

When his family decided to immigrate to Canada, Alrawi joined them. Canada has since become Alrawi’s primary home where he has been a resident writer at the University of Victoria in British Colombia. Alrawi decided to take a break from writing plays for around a decade and began writing children’s fiction stories, which include the picture books The Girl Who Lost Her Smile and The Mouse Who Saved Egypt. Alrawi not only splits his time between Canada and Egypt, but he has also lives in the United States. In the United States, he has worked as a resident writer at Iowa State University, Penn State University, and the University of Iowa. This past year, Alrawi visited Iowa City as a writer in the International Writers Program at the University of Iowa. Karim Alrawi is currently finishing up a novel which he worked on during his stay in Iowa City. 

Works Cited

"Karim Alrawi Interview." Personal interview. 23 Oct. 2013.

"Karim Alrawi." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Apr. 2013. Web. 31 Oct. 2013.



"Welcome." Karim Alrawi: Author and Playwright. N.p., 2010. Web. 31 Oct. 2013.


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