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مي إلياس زيادة
|Born||(1886-02-11)February 11, 1886
Nazareth, Vilayet of Syria
|Died||October 17, 1941(1941-10-17) (aged 55)
Cairo, Kingdom of Egypt
|Pen name||Isis Copia|
May Elias Ziadeh (// zee-AH-də; Arabic: مي إلياس زيادة, ALA-LC: Mayy Ilyās Ziyādah;[a] 11 February 1886 – 17 October 1941) was a Lebanese-Palestinian poet, essayist and translator, who wrote different works in Arabic and in French.
After schooling in her native Nazareth and in Lebanon, Ziadeh immigrated with her family to Egypt in 1908, and started publishing her French works (under the pen name Isis Copia) in 1911. Kahlil Gibran entered into a well-known correspondence with her in 1912. A prolific writer, she wrote for Arabic-language newspapers and periodicals besides publishing poems and books. She held one of the most famous literary salons in the modern Arab world. She called upon Arab women to aspire toward freedom, as in a 1921 conference. After suffering personal losses at the beginning of the 1930s, she returned to Lebanon where her relatives placed her in a psychiatric hospital. However she was able to get out of it, and left for Cairo, where she died later.
Early and personal life
Ziadeh attended primary school in Nazareth. As her father came to the Kesrouan region of Mount Lebanon, she was sent at 14 years of age to Aintoura to pursue her secondary studies at a French convent school for girls. Her studies in Aintoura exposed her to French literature and Romantic literature, to which she took a particular liking. She attended several Roman Catholic schools in Lebanon before returning, in 1904, to Nazareth to be with her parents. She is reported to have published her first articles at age 16. In 1908, she and her family emigrated to Egypt.
Ziadeh never married, but from 1912 onward, she maintained an extensive written correspondence with one of the literary giants of the twentieth century, the Lebanese-American poet and writer Khalil Gibran. Although the pair never met, as he was living in New York City, the correspondence lasted 19 years until his death in 1931.
Between 1928 and 1932, Ziadeh suffered a series of personal losses, beginning with the death of her parents, a number of her friends, and above all Khalil Gibran. She fell into a deep depression and returned to Lebanon where her relatives placed her in a psychiatric hospital to gain control over her estate. Nawal El Saadawi submits that Ziadeh was sent to the hospital for expressing feminist sentiments. Ziadeh was profoundly humiliated and incensed by this decision; she eventually recovered and left after a medical report proved that she was of sound mental health. She returned to Cairo where she died on October 17, 1941.
Journalism and language studies
Ziadeh's father founded Al Mahroussah newspaper while the family was in Egypt after 1908. She contributed to a number of articles.
Ziadeh was particularly interested in learning languages. She studied privately at home alongside her French-Catholic education, and later at a local university for a Modern Languages degree while in Egypt. She graduated in 1917. As a result, Ziadeh was completely bilingual in Arabic and French, and had working knowledge of English, Italian, German, Spanish, Latin as well as Modern Greek.
Key Arab literary figure
Ziadeh was well known in Arab literary circles, receiving many male and female writers and intellectuals at a literary salon she established in 1912 (and which Egyptian poet Gamila El Alaily attempted to emulate after Ziadeh's death). Among those that frequented the salon were Taha Hussein, Khalil Moutrane, Ahmed Lutfi el-Sayed, Antoun Gemayel, Walieddine Yakan, Abbas el-Akkad and Yacoub Sarrouf.
Ziadeh is credited with introducing the work of Khalil Gibran to the Egyptian public.
Unlike her peers Princess Nazli Fazil and Huda Sha'arawi, Mayy Ziyadah was more a 'woman of letters' than a social reformer. However, she was also involved in the women's emancipation movement. Ziadeh was deeply concerned with the emancipation of the Arab woman; a task to be effected first by tackling ignorance, and then anachronistic traditions. She considered women to be the basic elements of every human society and wrote that a woman enslaved could not breastfeed her children with her own milk when that milk smelled strongly of servitude.
She specified that female evolution towards equality need not be enacted at the expense of femininity, but rather that it was a parallel process. In 1921, she convened a conference under the heading, "Le but de la vie" ("The goal of life"), where she called upon Arab women to aspire toward freedom, and to be open to the Occident without forgetting their Oriental identity. Despite her death in 1941 her writings still represent the ideals of the first wave of Lebanese feminism. Ziadeh believed in liberating women and the first wave focused on doing just that through education, receiving voting rights, and finally having representation in government.
Romanticism and Orientalism
Bearing a romantic streak from childhood, Ziadeh was successively influenced by Lamartine, Byron, Shelley, and finally Gibran. These influences are evident in the majority of her works. She often reflected on her nostalgia for Lebanon and her fertile, vibrant, sensitive imagination is as evident as her mystery, melancholy and despair.
Ziadeh's first published work, Fleurs de rêve (1911), was a volume of poetry, written in French, using the pen name of Isis Copia. She wrote quite extensively in French, and occasionally English or Italian, but as she matured she increasingly found her literary voice in Arabic. She published works of criticism and biography, volumes of free-verse poetry and essays, and novels. She translated several European authors into Arabic, including Arthur Conan Doyle from English, 'Brada' (the Italian Contessa Henriette Consuelo di Puliga) from French, and Max Müller from German. She hosted the most famous literary salon of the Arab world during the twenties and thirties in Cairo.
Well noted titles of her works in Arabic (with English translation in brackets) include:
- Bâhithat el-Bâdiya باحثة البادية ("Seeker in the Desert", pen name of Malak Hifni Nasif)
- Sawâneh fatât سوانح فتاة (Platters of Crumbs)
- Zulumât wa Ichâ'ât ظلمات وأشعة (Humiliation and Rumors...)
- Kalimât wa Ichârât كلمات وأشارات (Words and Signs)
- Al Saha'ef الصحائف (The Newspapers)
- Ghayat Al-Hayât غاية الحياة (The Meaning of Life)
- Al-Musâwât المساواة (Equality)
- Bayna l-Jazri wa l-Madd بين الجزر والمد (Between the Ebb and Flow)
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