BEIRUT: Lebanese author and artist Etel Adnan received the AUB University Medal, the school's most prestigious recognition, Sunday at her home in Paris.
The medal was bestowed by AUB President President Dr. Fadlo R. Khuri , in the presence of a variety of Adnan's close friends who ranged from artists and architects to academics and other creatives,
Born in Beirut in 1925, Etel Adnan is an internationally acclaimed writer - both in French and in English - known in particular for her 1977 novel Sitt Marie Rose, one of the very first novels to come out of the Lebanese Civil War.
She has published more than thirty volumes of poetry and prose, among them L’Apocalypse Arabe, The Indian Never Had a Horse, Paris When It’s Naked, and In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country, works which break free from literary as well as social and political conventions in pursuit of humanistic inquiry, observers note.
Her work has been translated into many languages, including Arabic, which Adnan describes as “the forbidden paradise” of her childhood.
Having grown up in “a house of many mansions,” as Kamal Salibi has titled his history of Lebanon, Adnan has roots in many corners of the region. Her mother was Greek and her father was an Ottoman army officer from Damascus. They met in Smyrna and came to Beirut after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Growing up in Lebanon under the French Mandate, Adnan spoke Turkish and Greek with her parents at home and French in school.
It was in visual art, and in particular in abstract painting, that she later found a language free of barriers constructed of words. Adnan’s work has been shown in major art biennales and collective and individual exhibitions throughout the world. She is internationally recognized as one of our greatest living artists.
Adnan studied French literature at the École Supérieure des Lettres in Beirut from 1945 to 1949, teaching at the same time at the Ahliya High School. She received a scholarship to study philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, then moved to the United States in 1955 to continue her studies at Harvard University.
However, after arriving in the U.S., she decided not to pursue her PhD but to teach Humanities at Dominican College in San Rafael, California. There, she found a new voice writing in English, especially as an active participant in the anti-Vietnam War movement. She returned to Beirut in the early 1970s, where she worked for the cultural pages of the Lebanese daily L’Orient Le Jour, then left Beirut again at the outbreak of the civil war.
Having spent much of her peripatetic life between Beirut, Paris, and California, and having visited hundreds of cities across the globe, Adnan can be described as a citizen of the world – which is part of what makes her a consummate “citizen” of AUB, according to a statement from the school.
"Receiving this medal touches me very much. I feel as though I enter AUB through its beautiful gates. It feels like a homecoming,” the elderly author said.
Adnan’s life spans a historical threshold that encompasses nearly a century. She carries the legacy of the Ottoman Empire and the diverse stories of exile, which she inherited from her parents about a world forever lost. In her literary and artistic work she has explored alternatives to the political realities which she has experienced first-hand, the school noted in its statement.
Throughout the strife-torn 20th and 21st centuries, "she has held on firmly to hope for a more humane world. In conferring the University Medal on Etel Adnan, AUB is celebrating her as a beacon of humanistic inquiry and partaking in her dream of a better future." the school said.
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