The poet, painter, and philosopher Etel Adnan was born in 1925 as the daughter of a Syrian father and a Greek mother in French-controlled Beirut. Her childhood was shaped by linguistic diversity: Greek and Turkish as her mother tongues, Arabic in her surroundings, French at school. She studied philosophy in Paris. Her rejection of the war in Algeria influenced her decision to move to the USA in 1955 for postgraduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and at Harvard University. She later taught philosophy of art at the Dominican University of California in San Rafael. In the early 1960s she began painting. In connection with her protest against the Vietnam War, she published her first poem written in English and thus became an »American poet«, as she put it. In 1972 she returned to Lebanon, where she worked as a feature editor for »Al Safa« and »L’Orient–Le Jour«. However, she had to leave the country again in 1976 because of the civil war and her critical articles. Her anti-war novel »Sitt Marie Rose« (Eng. 1982) about the kidnapping and murder of her friend Marie Rose Boulos by Kata’ib Christian militiamen was published in Paris in 1977. The novel, a classic of anti-war literature, has been translated into ten languages and was awarded the Prix France-Pays Arabes. Adnan eventually settled in Sausalito.
Her literary works were first written mainly in French and later in English. At the same time she is regarded as one of the most important voices in the Arab world. Her works are primarily about a heightened awareness of contemporary events, everyday life, places and people. »L’Apocalypse arabe« (1980; Eng. »The Arab Apocalypse«, 2007) is a poem with 59 chapters for the 59 days of the siege of the Tel al-Zaatar camp in Beirut. »Journey to Mount Tamalpais« (1985) is an artist’s book about the mountain in California, its indigenous history, and its influence on Adnan’s life and artistic work. »In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country« (2004) is a collection of political and poetic reflections over 30 years from Beirut, Paris, Sausalito, and the Greek island of Skopelos.
Etel Adnan has also written a series of plays as well as the libretto to the French part of Robert Wilson’s opera »The CIVIL warS« (1981-84). Her paintings, drawings and works on paper received their own room at documenta13 (2012) and can be seen in renowned museums and galleries worldwide. Etel Adnan was presented with the national award by Lebanese President Michel Suleiman for her services to the Arab world. In 2014, she was named Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. Adnan passed away in Paris on 14 November 2021.