Etel Adnan was born in 1925 and raised in Beirut, Lebanon. Her mother was a Greek from Smyrna, her father, a high ranking Ottoman officer born in Damascus. In Lebanon, she was educated in French schools. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, Paris. In January 1955 she went to the United States to pursue post-graduate studies in philosophy at U.C. Berkeley, and Harvard. From 1958 to 1972, she taught philosophy at Dominican College of San Rafael, California. Based on her feelings of connection to, and solidarity with the Algerian war of independence, she began to resist the political implications of writing in French and shifted the focus of her creative expression to visual art. She became a painter. But it was with her participation in the poets’ movement against the war in Vietnam that she began to write poems and became, in her words, “an American poet.”
Etel Adnan’s career spans more than six decades and encompasses a wide range of media including painting, drawing, film, ceramics, tapestries and book making. In 2012, Adnan was included in Documenta (13) in Germany. Since then, myriad museums have presented solo exhibitions of the artist’s work, including Mudam Luxembourg – Musée d’art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg City (2019); Aspen Museum of Art, Aspen, Colorado (2019); SFMoMA, California (2018); MASS MoCA, Massachusetts (2018);Zentrum Paul Klee, Switzerland (2018); Institute du Monde Arabe, France (2017); the Serpentine Gallery, England (2016); Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Switzerland (2016); Irish Museum of Modern Art, Ireland (2015); Museum der Moderne Salzburg, Austria (2014-2015); and Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Qatar (2014).
Adnan’s work is included in major public collections worldwide such as the Centre Pompidou, France; Institut du Monde Arabe, France; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; British Museum, England; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, Tunisia; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Etel Adnan’s poetry has been put to music by contemporary musicians: Tania Leon, Gavin Bryars, Henry Threadgill Annea Lockwood, Zad Moultaka. Etel Adnan wrote for the theatre including: The French part of Civil wars, a multilanguage opera by the American stage director Robert Wilson. It was performed in Lyon, and Bobigny, in 1985; The Actress was performed in the author’s own French translation, at La Ménagerie de Verre Theatre in Paris in March 1999;Like a Christmas Tree was performed in San Francisco, at Venue 9, in 2003; in Dusseldorf, at the Schauspielhaus, in 2003, in San Carlos de Bariloches, Argentina, in 2003, and in Udine, Italy, in 2005; Jennin, a poem, was adapted for the stage and produced at Attis Theatre, in Athens, in 2005; Proximité et éloignement de la mémoire (written in French by Etel Adnan) was performed at La Panta Theatre, Caen, France, in 2009; Crime of Honor was published in a French translation by L’Arche, editors, in Paris in 2011; The novel, Sitt Marie Rose, in an adaptation for the stage, was produced at the Forum Freis Theater, in Dusseldorf, in 2009.
In 2010 Adnan received from RAWI (Radius of Arab-American Writers) a “Life-time Achievement Award” and also won the Josephine Miles Award from PEN Oakland that same year. In October 2011, in Dusseldorf, a play based on To Be In A Time of War, with texts by Heiner Müller, was produced at the Forum Freis Theater, in Düsseldorf, then presented in Berlin and Beirut.
Etel Adnan’s published works in English: Moonshots, BEYROUTH, 1966; Five Senses for One Death, The Smith, 1971; From A To Z, The Post-Apollo Press, 1982; Sitt Marie-Rose, Translated from the French by Georgina Kleege, The Post-Apollo Press, 1982; The Indian Never Had A Horse & Other Poems, Illustrated with etchings by Russell Chatham, The Post-Apollo Press, 1985; Journey to Mount Tamalpais, The Post-Apollo Press, 1986; The Arab Apocalypse,Translated from the French by Etel Adnan, The Post-Apollo Press, 1989; The Spring Flowers Own & The Manifestations of the Voyage, The Post-Apollo Press, 1990; Of Cities & Women: Letters To Fawwaz, The Post-Apollo Press, 1993; Paris, When It’s Naked, The Post-Apollo Press, 1993; There: In the Light and the Darkness of the Self and of the Other, The Post-Apollo Press, 1997; In/somnia, The Post-Apollo Press, 2003; In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country, City Lights Books, 2005; Master of the Eclipse, Interlink Books, 2009 *Winner of the PEN Oakland Award, 2010; Seasons, The Post-Apollo Press, 2008; Etel Adnan: On Love and the Cost We Are Not Willing to Pay Today: 100 Notes, 100 Thoughts: Documenta Series 006, Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2011; Sea and Fog, Nightboat Books, 2012; Homage to Etel Adnan. The Post-Apollo Press, 2012
Etel Adnan’s books turned into films include: A half-hour film based on the German edition of Paris, When It’s Naked was made by the German-Swiss television producer Heinz Butler and shown on German and Swiss televisions in the Spring 2000. Vouvoula Skoura made a film of 40 minutes, based on On Cities and Women (in its Greek translation), in 2007, shown in many festivals and on Greece’s National Television.
She currently lives and works in Paris, France.