Ethel Adnan was born on February 24, 1925 in Beirut, Lebanon. Her father, Assaf Qadri, a Syrian born in Damascus, was a retired high-ranking official in the Ottoman army and a former classmate of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the Turkish Republic. Her mother, Rosa Kadri, grew up in the city of Smyrna (now the Turkish city of Izmir), which was largely destroyed by fire in 1922.
Her father changed the family’s last name to Adnan, which was his father’s name, in 1932. Ms Adnan said her father was a “disabled person” by the age of 40 and that she grew up “with people who were defeated when they were still young.”
She left Lebanon in 1949 to study philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris on a scholarship.… Several years later, she moved to the United States to pursue graduate studies in philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard, before settling in California. There she began teaching, including pursuing art philosophy at Dominican College in San Rafael (now the Dominican University of California).
Ms Adnan said she began writing poetry to protest the Vietnam War, becoming, in her words, an “American poet.”
A few years earlier, on the contrary, it was her teaching that pushed her to the canvas.
“The head of the art department wondered how I could teach such a course without practicing painting,” she told The Paris Review Daily. “She gave me crayons and pieces of paper and I started doing small jobs and she said I didn’t need any training, that I was an artist. So I continued.
She was 34 when she started painting in 1959.
Ms Adnan returned to Lebanon in 1972 and shortly thereafter met Ms Fattal, an artist, in Beirut. For the next several years, Ms. Adnan worked as a cultural editor for two daily city newspapers.
After the outbreak of civil war in 1975, she fled to Paris with Ms Fattal. It was there that she wrote Sitt Marie Rose, which was originally published in the French language she knew best. (Like many Lebanese, she attended a French school as a child and could be punished for speaking Arabic, she said.) The novel was unavailable in Lebanese bookstores for years because its political overtones were considered too controversial.