The Pen League

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The Pen League (Arabic: الرابطة القلمية‎ / ALA-LC: al-Rābiṭah al-Qalamiyyah), also known as "al-Mahjar", was the first[1] Arab-American literary society, formed initially by Nasib Arida and Abdul Massih Haddad[2] in 1915[3] or 1916,[4] and subsequently re-formed in 1920 by a group of Arab writers in New York led by Gibran Khalil Gibran,[5] from a group of writers who has been working closely since 1911.[6] The league dissolved following Gibran's death in 1931 and Mikhail Naimy's return to Lebanon in 1932.[7]

The primary goals of The Pen League were, in Naimy's words as Secretary, "to lift Arabic literature from the quagmire of stagnation and imitation, and to infuse a new life into its veins so as to make of it an active force in the building up of the Arab nations",[8] and to promote a new generation of Arab writers.[9] As Naimy expressed in the by-laws he drew up for the group:

The tendency to keep our language and literature within the narrow bounds of aping the ancients in form and substance is a most pernicious tendency; if left unopposed, it will soon lead to decay and disintegration... To imitate them is a deadly shame... We must be true to ourselves if we would be true to our ancestors.[10]

Literary historian Nadeem Naimy assesses the group's importance as having shifted the criteria of aesthetic merit in Arabic literature:

Focusing on Man rather than on language, on the human rather than on the law and on the spirit rather than on the letter, the Mahjar (Arab emigrant) School is said to have ushered Arabic literature from its age old classicism into the modern era.[11]

Musicians such as Russell Bunai were also associated with the group.[12]



  1. ^ Zéghidour, Slimane (1982). La poésie arabe moderne entre l'Islam et l'Occident. KARTHALA Editions. p. 142. ISBN 978-2-86537-047-4.
  2. ^ "Al-Rabitah al-Qalamiyah (1916, 1920-1931)". al-Funun. Nasib Aridah Organization. Retrieved September 23, 2009.
  3. ^ Haiek, Joseph R. (1984). Arab-American almanac. News Circle Publishing House. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-915652-21-1.
  4. ^ Popp, Richard Alan (2001). "Al-Rābiṭah al-Qalamīyah, 1916". Journal of Arabic Literature. Brill. 32 (1): 30–52. doi:10.1163/157006401X00123. JSTOR 4183426.
  5. ^ Katibah, Habib Ibrahim; Farhat Jacob Ziadeh (1946). Arabic-speaking Americans. Institute of Arab American Affairs. p. 13. OCLC 2794438.
  6. ^ Nijland, Cornelis (2001). "Religious motifs and themes in North American Mahjar poetry". In Gert Borg, Ed de Moor. Representations of the divine in Arabic poetry. Rodopi. p. 161. ISBN 978-90-420-1574-6.
  7. ^ Starkey, Paul (2006). Modern Arabic literature. Edinburgh University Press. p. 62. ISBN 978-0-7486-1290-1.
  8. ^ Naimy, Mikhail (1950). Khalil [sic] Gibran. p. 50., qtd. by Nadeem Naimy in The Lebanese Prophets of New York, American University of Beirut, 1985, p. 18.
  9. ^ Levinson, David; Melvin Ember (1997). American immigrant cultures: builders of a nation. Simon & Schuster Macmillan. p. 864. ISBN 978-0-02-897213-8.
  10. ^ Naimy, Mikhail (1950). Kahlil [sic] Gibran. p. 156., qtd. by Nadeem Naimy in The Lebanese Prophets of New York, American University of Beirut, 1985, pp. 18-18.
  11. ^ Naimy, Nadeem (1985). The Lebanese Prophets of New York. American University of Beirut. p. 8.
  12. ^ Zuhur, Sherifa (1998). Images of enchantment: visual and performing arts of the Middle East. American University in Cairo Press. p. 143. ISBN 978-977-424-467-4.
  13. ^ Benson, Kathleen; Philip M. Kayal (2002). A community of many worlds: Arab Americans in New York City. Syracuse University Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-8156-0739-7.