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Arab Americans

Etel Adnan

Etel Adnan

Etel Adnan (born 24 February 1925 in BeirutLebanon) is a Lebanese-American poet, essayist, and visual artist. In 2003MELUS, the journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, called Adnan “arguably the most celebrated and accomplished Arab American author writing today.” [1] She currently lives between ParisFranceand Sausalito, California.[2]


Etel Adnan was born in 1925 in BeirutLebanon.[3] Adnan’s mother was a Christian Greek from Smyrna and her father was Muslim Syrian and a petty officer.[3] Though she grew up speaking Greek and Turkish in a primarily Arabic-speaking society, she was educated at French convent schools and French became the language in which her early work was first written.[4]She also studied English in her youth, and most of her later work has been first written in this language.

At twenty-four Adnan traveled to Paris where she received a degree in philosophy from the Sorbonne.[3] She then traveled to America where she continued graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley and at Harvard University.[3] From 1952 to 1978, she taught philosophy of art at the Dominican University of California in San Rafael.[3] She has also lectured at many universities throughout the United States.

Adnan returned from America to Lebanon and worked as a journalist and cultural editor for Al-Safa, a French-language newspaper in BeirutLebanon. In addition, she also helped build the cultural section of the newspaper, occasionally contributing cartoons and illustrations. Her tenure at Al-Safa was most notable for her front-page editorials, commenting on the important political issues of the day.[5]

Caught between languages, in her youth Adnan first found her voice through painting rather than writing. MELUS calls Adnan’s life “a study in displacement and alienation.” In 1996 she recalled, “Abstract art was the equivalent of poetic expression; I didn’t need to use words, but colors and lines. I didn’t need to belong to a language-oriented culture but to an open form of expression.” She has said, “As for any serious writer, the audience of an Arab–American cannot be confined to his or her fellow Arabs. Books have a life of their own and no one can determine their fate. The only thing we can strive for consciously is to be aware of the existence of a growing body of Arab–American literature, try to know it and make it known.”[citation needed]

In her later years Adnan began to openly identify as lesbian.[6]

Written Works

In English

  • Sitt Marie Rose: A Novel (1978)
    Written in French, the novel was translated into English in 1982. It was inspired by the true story of a woman killed in the Lebanese Civil War by a childhood friend who had become a member of the right-wing Christian Kataeb Party party. Because of its controversial nature, the Arabic translation of the book was not marketed in Christian East Beirut. The novel criticizes the violence both of a Christianity that is “not in actual communication with any force other than the Dragon” and an Islam “forgets all too often that the divine mercy affirmed by the first verse of the Koran can only be expressed by human mercy.”
  • When it’s Naked, Sausalito, CA: The Post-Apollo Press, 1993.
  • Master of the Eclipse (2009)
  • Seasons (2008)
  • In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country (2005)
  • In/somnia (2002)
  • There: In the Light and the Darkness of the Self and of the Other (1997)
  • To Write in a Foreign Language (1996)
  • Of Cities and Women, Letters to Fawwaz (1993)
  • Paris, When It’s Naked (1993)
  • The Spring Flowers Own and the Manifestations of the Voyage (1990)
  • The Arab Apocalypse (1989)
  • Journey to Mount Tamalpais: An Essay (1985)
  • The Indian Never Had a Horse and Other Poems (1985)
  • From A to Z Poetry (1982)

In Arabic

  • al-Sitt Mari Ruz: riwayah. (Sitt Marie Rose.), with Jirum Shahin and Firyal Jabburi Ghazul.Al-Qahirah: al-Hayah al-Ammah li-Qusur al-Thaqafah, 2000.
  • n mudun wa-nisa: rasail il Fawwaz. (Of Cities and Women.) Bayrut: Dar al-Hihar, 1998.
  • Kitab al-bahr; kitab al-layal; kitab al-mawt; kitab al-nihayah, with Abid Azarih. Bayrut: Dar Amwaj, 1994.
  • al-Sitt Marie Ruz. Bayrut: al-Mu-assasah al-Arabiyah lil-Dirasat wa-al-Nashr, 1979.

In French

  • Paris mis a nu. France: Editions Tamyras, 2011, translated by Martin Richet.
  • Ce ciel qui n’est pas. Paris: LHarmattan, 1997.
  • Ce Ciel qui n’est pas. Bilingual edition (French-Arabic): Tunis: Tawbad, 2008.
  • Rachid Korachi: Ecriture passion, with Rachid Korachi and Jamel-Eddine Bencheikh. Alger: Galerie Mhamed Issiakhem, 1988.
  • L’apocalypse arabe. Paris: Papyrus Editions, 1980.
  • Sitt Marie Rose. Paris: Des Femmes, 1978.
  • Jbu: Suivi de l’Express Beyrouth enfer. Paris: P.J. Oswald, 1973.

Visual Art

In her painting, Adnan works on a table, using a palette knife to apply oil paint onto the canvas – often directly from the tube – in firm swipes across the picture’s surface.[7] In 2012 a series of the artist’s brightly colored abstract paintings were exhibited as a part of documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany.[8] In 2014 a collection of the artist’s paintings and tapestries were exhibited as a part of the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art.[2]

Etel Adnan’s retrospective at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, titled “Etel Adnan In All Her Dimensions” and curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, featured eleven dimensions of Adnan’s practice, including her early works, her literature, her carpets, and other. The show was launched in March 2014 along with a 580-page catalog of her work published jointly by Mathaf and Skira. Designed by artist Ala Younis in Arabic and English, the publication included text contributions by Simone Fattal, Daniel Birnbaum, Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, and six interviews with Hans-Ulrich Obrist.


In 1977 Adnan was awarded with the France-Pays Arabes award for Sitt Marie Rose.[4]

In 2010 Adnan won the Arab American Book Awards for Master of the Eclipse.[9]

In 2013 Adnan won the California Book Award for Poetry for her collection Sea and Fog.[10] She was also awarded with a Lambda Literary Award.[11]

In 2014 Adnan was named a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government.[12]

Adnan also has a RAWI Lifetime Achievement Award from the Radius of Arab-American Writers.[13]


  1. Jump up^ Majaj, Lisa Suhair and Amireh, Amal (Eds.) “Etel Adnan: Critical Essays on the Arab-American Writer and Artist”Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  2. Jump up to:a b “Etel Adnan”, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  3. Jump up to:a b c d e “Etel Adnan: About” Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  4. Jump up to:a b “Etel Adnan: Biography” Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  5. Jump up^ Myers, Julian; Rabben, Heidi (eds.). The Ninth Page: Etel Adnan’s Journalism 1972-74. San Francisco: CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. pp. 6–8. ISBN 978-0-9849609-3-4.
  6. Jump up^ Lisa Suhair Majaj and Amal Amireh, Etel Adnan: Critical Essays on the Arab-American Writer and ArtistMcFarland & Company, 2001. ISBN 0786410728.
  7. Jump up^ Etel Adnan, 8 October – 16 November 2014 White Cube, London.
  8. Jump up^ Smith, Roberta. “Art Show as Unruly Organism” The New York Times, Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  9. Jump up^ “2010 Arab American Book Award Winners” Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  10. Jump up^ “California Book Awards” Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  11. Jump up^ “25th annual Lambda Literary Award winners announced”LGBT Weekly, June 4, 2013.
  12. Jump up^ “Etel Adnan Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres” Agenda Culturel, Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  13. Jump up^ [1] Retrieved 10 April 2014.