Etel Adnan

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Etel Adnan
Adnan in 2008
Adnan in 2008
Born(1925-02-24)24 February 1925
Beirut, Greater Lebanon, France
Died14 November 2021(2021-11-14) (aged 96)
Paris, France
Alma materUniversity of Paris
Harvard University
GenrePoetry, essays, visual arts
Literary movementHurufiyya movement
PartnerSimone Fattal

Etel Adnan (Arabic: إيتيل عدنان; 24 February 1925 – 14 November 2021) was a Lebanese-American poet, essayist, and visual artist. In 2003, Adnan was named "arguably the most celebrated and accomplished Arab American author writing today" by the academic journal MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States.[1]

Besides her literary output, Adnan made visual works in a variety of media, such as oil paintings, films and tapestries, which have been exhibited at galleries across the world.


Ethel N. Adnan was born in 1925 in Beirut, Lebanon.[2][3] Adnan's mother Rose "Lily" Lacorte was Greek Orthodox from Smyrna and her father Assaf Kadri was a Sunni Muslim-Turkish high-ranking Ottoman officer born in Damascus, Ottoman Syria. Assaf Kadri's mother was Albanian.[4] Adnan's grandfather was a Turkish soldier.[5][6] Her father came from a wealthy family; he was a top officer and former classmate of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk at the military academy.[6] Prior to marrying Adnan's mother, her father was already married with three children.[6] In contrast, Adnan's mother was raised in extreme poverty; her parents met in Smyrna during World War I while her father was serving as Governor of Smyrna. After the Ottoman Empire collapsed and Smyrna was burned during the Occupation of Smyrna, Adnan's parents migrated to Beirut. Adnan stated that her mother was 16 years old when she met her father, at a time when "the Greeks in Turkey were in concentration camps."[7][8] 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.[9] She also studied English in her youth, and most of her later work was first written in this language.[citation needed]

At 24, Adnan traveled to Paris where she received a degree in philosophy from the University of Paris.[7] She then traveled to the United States where she continued graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley and at Harvard University.[7] From 1958 to 1972, she taught philosophy of art at the Dominican University of California in San Rafael.[10][7] She also lectured at many universities throughout the United States.[citation needed]

Adnan returned from the US to Lebanon and worked as a journalist and cultural editor for Al Safa newspaper, a French-language newspaper in Beirut. 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.[11]

In her later years, Adnan began to openly identify as lesbian.[12]

Adnan lived in Paris and Sausalito, California.[13] She died in Paris on 14 November 2021, at the age of 96.[14][15]

Visual art[edit]

Adnan also worked as a painter, her earliest abstract works were created using a palette knife to apply oil paint onto the canvas – often directly from the tube – in firm swipes across the picture's surface. The focus of the compositions often being a red square, she was interested in the "immediate beauty of colour".[16][17] In 2012, a series of the artist's brightly colored abstract paintings were exhibited as a part of documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany.[18]

In the 1960s, she began integrating Arabic calligraphy into her artworks and her books, such as Livres d’Artistes [Artist's Books].[19] She recalls sitting for hours copying words from an Arabic grammar without trying to understand the meaning of the words. Her art was very much influenced by early hurufiyya artists, including Iraqi artist Jawad Salim, Palestinian writer and artist Jabra Ibrahim Jabra and Iraqi painter Shakir Hassan al Said, who rejected Western aesthetics and embraced a new art form which was both modern and yet referenced traditional culture, media and techniques.[20]

Inspired by Japanese leporellos, Adnan also painted landscapes on foldable screens that can be "extended in space like free-standing drawings".[16]

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.[13]

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. It included her early works, her literature, her carpets, and others. The show was launched in March 2014, accompanied by a 580-page catalog of her work published jointly by Mathaf and Skira. The catalog was designed by artist Ala Younis in Arabic and English, and included text contributions by Simone Fattal, Daniel Birnbaum, Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, as well as six interviews with Hans-Ulrich Obrist.[citation needed]

In 2017, Adnan's work was included in "Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction," a group exhibition organized by MoMA, which brought together prominent artists including Ruth Asawa, Gertrudes Altschul, Anni Albers, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Lygia Clark, and Lygia Pape, among others.[21][22]

In 2018, MASS MoCA hosted a retrospective of the artist, titled "A yellow sun A green sun a yellow sun A red sun a blue sun", including a selection of paintings in oil and ink, as well as a reading room of her written works.[23] The exhibition explored how the experience of reading poetry differs from the experience of looking at a painting.[24]

Published in 2018, "Etel Adnan", a biography of the artist written by Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, inquires into the artist's work as a shaman and activist.[25][26] In 2020, the Griffin Poetry Prize is awarded to her book Time.[27]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Adnan received a RAWI Lifetime Achievement Award from the Radius of Arab-American Writers.[citation needed]


In English[edit]

  • Shifting the silence, Nightboat, 2020
  • Time, Nightboat, 2020
  • Surge, Nightboat, 2018
  • Night, Nightboat, 2016
  • Life is a Weaving, Galerie Lelong (2016) ISBN 978-2-868821-23-2.
  • Premonition, Kelsey Street Press (2014) ISBN 978-0-932716-82-8.
  • To look at the sea is to become what one is: An Etel Adnan Reader, edited by Thom Donovan, Brandon Shimoda, Ammiel Alcalay, and Cole Swensen, Nightboat Books (2014)
  • Sea and Fog, Nightboat Books (2012)
  • 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)
  • Sitt Marie Rose: A Novel (1978)
  • Moon Shots, Sausalito-Belvedere Gazette (1967)[33]
  • "The Enemy's Testament" in Where is Vietnam?, Anchor Books (1967, Walter Lowenfels, ed., ASIN B000J0W89M)

In Arabic[edit]

  • 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[edit]

  • Voyage, guerre, exil, L'Echoppe, 2020
  • Un printemps inattendu (entretiens), Galerie Lelong, 2020
  • Grandir et devenir poète au Liban, L'Echoppe, 2019
  • Tolérance, L'Echoppe, 2018
  • Nuit, Editions de l'Attente, 2017
  • La vie est un tissage, Galerie Lelong, 2016 ISBN 978-2-868821-21-8
  • Mer et brouillard, Editions de l'Attente, 2017
  • A propos de la fin de l'Empire Ottoman, Galerie Lelong, 2015
  • Le Prix que nous ne voulons pas payer pour l'amour, Galerie Lelong, 2015
  • Prémonition, Galerie Lelong, 2015
  • Là-bas, Editions de l’Attente, 2013
  • Paris mis a nu. France: Éditions Tamyras, 2011, translated by Martin Richet.
  • Ce ciel qui n'est pas. Paris: L'Harmattan, 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 Éditions, 1980.
  • Sitt Marie Rose. Paris: Des Femmes, 1978.
  • Jbu: Suivi de l'Express Beyrouth enfer. Paris: P.J. Oswald, 1973.


Etel Adnan's works can be found in many collections, including the Centre Pompidou, Paris, Mathaf, Doha, Qatar, Royal Jordanian Museum, Tunis Modern Art Museum, Sursock Museum, Beirut, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, British Museum, London, M+, Hong Kong.[citation needed]


  1. ^ 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. ^ Amyuni, M.T., "The Secret of Being a Woman' on Etel Adnan's Quest," Al Jadid [A Review & Record of Arab Culture and the Arts], Vol. 4, No. 25, 1998, Online:
  3. ^ Phaidon Editors (2019). Great women artists. Phaidon Press. p. 22. ISBN 978-0714878775. {{cite book}}: |last1= has generic name (help)
  4. ^ Colby, Georgina (2019). Reading Experimental Writing. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press. p. 15. ISBN 9781474440400.
  5. ^ "For Etel Adnan, a show in Turkey is a symbolic homecoming". Apollo Magazine. 3 June 2021. Retrieved 2021-10-26.
  6. ^ a b c An Artisan of Beauty and Truth:Etel Adnan in conversation with David Hornsby and Jane Clark, Beshara Magazine, 2019, Etel: Well, my father was a Turk and a Muslim, and my mother was a Greek and a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, at a time when intermarriages were not common at all. He was a top officer and a classmate of Atatürk; they were at the military academy together. My father was already married with three children when he met my mother; he lived in Damascus and had his first family there. My mother was twenty years younger, and I was the only child of their marriage.
  7. ^ a b c d "Etel Adnan: About" Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  8. ^ "Etel Adnan: Children of the sun". Bidoun. Retrieved 2020-12-06.
  9. ^ a b "Etel Adnan: Biography" Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  10. ^ Slattery, Dorothy (22 December 1959). "Nostalgia Markes Yule Season For Students". Daily Independent Journal. San Rafael, California. p. 19. Retrieved 11 December 2021 – via
  11. ^ Myers, Julian; Rabben, Heidi, eds. (December 2013). 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.
  12. ^ Lisa Suhair Majaj and Amal Amireh, Etel Adnan: Critical Essays on the Arab-American Writer and Artist. McFarland & Company, 2001. ISBN 0786410728.
  13. ^ a b "Etel Adnan" Archived 2014-04-23 at the Wayback Machine, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  14. ^ Asfour, Nana (2021-11-14). "Etel Adnan, Lebanese American Author and Artist, Dies at 96". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-11-15.
  15. ^ "Etel Adnan obituary: 1925 – 2021". Wallpaper. 2021-11-14. Retrieved 2021-11-15.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  16. ^ a b Jones, Jonathan; Botton, Alain de; Smith, Ali; Khan, Natasha; McBride, Eimear; Obrist, Hans Ulrich (Jan 1, 2017). "Art to inspire: Ali Smith, Alain de Botton and others on the works they love". Retrieved Jun 9, 2019 – via
  17. ^ Etel Adnan, 8 October – 16 November 2014 White Cube, London.
  18. ^ Smith, Roberta. "Art Show as Unruly Organism" The New York Times, Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  19. ^ Gravelle, Kim (20 February 1965). "While You're Out". Capital Journal. Salem, Oregon. p. 5 – via
  20. ^ "Arabic art embraces politics and heritage". The Daily Star Newspaper - Lebanon. 2003-04-24. Retrieved 2021-06-01.
  21. ^ "Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction". The Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  22. ^ Cotter, Holland (2017-04-13). "At MoMA, Women at Play in the Fields of Abstraction". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  23. ^ Wilson-Goldie, Kaelen. "Etel Adnan". Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  24. ^ "New exhibit at Mass MoCA gathers the many sides of Etel Adnan into a whole". The Berkshire Eagle. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  25. ^ "Etel Adnan, the Eternal Voyager, Captured in a New Biography". Hyperallergic. 2019-03-06. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  26. ^ "Book paints a picture of Etel Adnan | Arts & Ent , Culture | THE DAILY STAR". Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  27. ^ "Griffin Poetry Prize: Time by Sarah Riggs, translated from the French written by Etel Adnan and Magnetic Equator by Kaie Kellough Win the 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize". Griffin Poetry Prize. Archived from the original on 2020-10-21. Retrieved 2020-09-26.
  28. ^ "2010 Arab American Book Award Winners" Archived 2017-08-05 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  29. ^ "California Book Awards". Archived from the original on 2013-07-31. Retrieved 2013-07-31.
  30. ^ "25th annual Lambda Literary Award winners announced" Archived 2013-06-10 at the Wayback Machine. LGBT Weekly, June 4, 2013.
  31. ^ "Etel Adnan Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres" Archived 2016-03-05 at the Wayback Machine Agenda Culturel, Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  32. ^ "Time by Sarah Riggs, translated from the French written by Etel Adnan and Magnetic Equator by Kaie Kellough Win the 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize" Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  33. ^ "Marinite's Poetry Book Is Released". Daily Independent Journal. 1967-01-24. p. 4 – via
  34. ^ "Tentoonstelling Kleur als Taal".


  1. Amireh, Amal; "Bearing Witness: The Politics of Form in Etel Adnan's Sitt Marie Rose." Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies, 2005 Fall; 14 (3): 251–63. (journal article)
  2. Amyuni, Mona Takieddine. "Etel Adnan & Hoda Barakat: De-Centered Perspectives, Subversive Voices." IN: Poetry's Voice-Society's Norms: Forms of Interaction between Middle Eastern Writers and Their Societies. Ed. Andreas Pflitsch and Barbara Winckler. Wiesbaden, Germany: Reichert; 2006. pp. 211–21
  3. Cassidy, Madeline. "'Love Is a Supreme Violence': The Deconstruction of Gendered Space in Etel Adnan's Sitt Marie Rose." IN: Violence, Silence, and Anger: Women's Writing as Transgression. Ed. Deirdre Lashgari. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia; 1995. pp. 282–90
  4. Champagne, John G. "Among Good Christian Peoples: Teaching Etel Adnan's Sitt Marie Rose." College Literature, 2000 Fall; 27 (3): 47–70.
  5. Fernea, Elizabeth. "The Case of Sitt Marie Rose: An Ethnographic Novel from the Modern Middle East." IN: Literature and Anthropology. Ed. Philip Dennis and Wendell Aycock. Lubbock: Texas Tech UP; 1989. pp. 153–164
  6. Foster, Thomas. "Circles of Oppression, Circles of Repression: Etel Adnan's Sitt Marie Rose." PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, 1995 Jan; 110 (1): 59–74.
  7. Ghandour, Sabah. "Gender, Postcolonial Subject, and the Lebanese Civil War in Sitt Marie Rose." IN: The Postcolonial Crescent: Islam's Impact on Contemporary Literature. Ed. John C. Hawley. New York, NY: Peter Lang; 1998. pp. 155–65
  8. Hajjar, Jacqueline A. "Death, Gangrene of the Soul, in Sitt Marie Rose by Etel Adnan." Revue Celfan/Celfan Review, 1988 May; 7 (3): 27–33.
  9. Hartman, Michelle. "'This Sweet/Sweet Music': Jazz, Sam Cooke, and Reading Arab American Literary Identities." MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, 2006 Winter; 31 (4): 145–65.
  10. Karnoub, Elisabeth. "'Une Humanité qui ne cesse de crucifier le Christ': Réécriture du sacrifice christique dans Sitt Marie Rose de Etel Adnan." IN: Victims and Victimization in French and Francophone Literature. Ed. Buford Norman. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Rodopi; 2005. pp. 59–71
  11. Kilpatrick, Hilary. "Interview with Etel Adnan (Lebanon)." IN: Unheard Words: Women and Literature in Africa, the Arab World, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America. Ed. Mineke Schipper. Trans. Barbara Potter Fasting. London: Allison & Busby; 1985. pp. 114–120
  12. Layoun, Mary N. "Translation, Cultural Transgression and Tribute, and Leaden Feet." IN: Between Languages and Cultures: Translation and Cross-Cultural Texts. Ed. Anuradha Dingwaney and Carol Maier. Pittsburgh, PA: U of Pittsburgh P; 1995. pp. 267–89
  13. Majaj, Lisa Suhair. "Voice, Representation and Resistance: Etel Adnan’s Sitt Marie Rose." Intersections: Gender, Nation and Community in Arab Women's Novels. Ed. Lisa Suhair Majaj, Paula W. Sunderman and Therese Saliba. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press, 2002. 200–230.
  14. Majaj, Lisa Suhair and Amal Amireh. Etel Adnan: Critical Essays on the Arab-American Writer and Artist. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Co, 2002.
  15. Marie, Elisabeth Anne. Sacrifice, sacrifiée, sacrificatrice: L'étrange triptyque: Sacrifices au féminin dans trois romans francophones libanais. Dissertation Abstracts International, Section A: The Humanities and Social Sciences, 2003 May; 63 (11): 3961. U of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2002.
  16. Mejcher-Atassi, Sonja. "Breaking the Silence: Etel Adnan's Sitt Marie Rose and The Arab Apocalypse." IN: Poetry's Voice-Society's Norms: Forms of Interaction between Middle Eastern Writers and Their Societies. Ed. Andreas Pflitsch and Barbara Winckler. Wiesbaden, Germany: Reichert; 2006. pp. 201–10
  17. Mustafa, Daliya Sa'id (translator). "Al-Kitabah bi-lughah ajnabiyyah." Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, 2000; 20: 133-43 (Arabic section); 300-01 (English section).
  18. Muzaffar, May. "Iytil 'Adnan: Qarinat al-nur wa-al-ma'." Arabi, 2007 Feb; 579: 64–68.
  19. Obank, Margaret. "Private Syntheses and Multiple Identities." Banipal: Magazine of Modern Arab Literature, 1998 June; 2: 59–61.
  20. Shoaib, Mahwash. "Surpassing Borders and 'Folded Maps': Etel Adnan's Location in There." Studies in the Humanities, 2003 June-Dec; 30 (1-2): 21–28.
  21. "Vitamin P3." Phaidon Press, 2017. ISBN 978-0-7148-7145-5
  22. Willis, Mary-Angela. "Francophone Literature of the Middle East by Women: Breaking the Walls of Silence." IN: Francophone Post-Colonial Cultures: Critical Essays. Ed. Kamal Salhi. Lanham, MD: Lexington; 2003. pp. 64–74
  23. Willis, Mary-Angela. La Guerre démasquée à travers la voix féminine dans Sitt Marie Rose d'Etel Adnan et Coquelicot du massacre d'Evelyne Accad. Dissertation Abstracts International, Section A: The Humanities and Social Sciences, 2002 Mar; 62 (9): 3061. U of Alabama, 2001.

Further reading[edit]

Works on Etel Adnan[edit]

External links[edit]

  1. ^ Hirahara, Naomi (2022-02-07). We Are Here. ISBN 978-0-7624-7965-8.