Mayy Ziyada


Mayy Ziyada
(مي زيادة) was born in Nazareth in Palestine to a Lebanese Maronite father (from the Chahtoul family) and a Palestinian mother. Her father, Elias Ziyada, was editor of al-Mahr?sah. Ziyada attended primary school in Nazareth. As her father came to the Kesrouan region of Lebanon, at 14 years of age she was sent to Aintoura to pursue her secondary studies at aFrench convent school for girls.

Her studies in Aintoura had exposed her to French literature, and Romantic literature, to which she took a particular liking. She attended severalRoman Catholic schools in Lebanon and in 1904, returned 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. Her father founded "Al Mahroussah" newspaper while the family was in Egypt, to which Ziade contributed a number of articles. Ziyada was particularly interested in learning languages, studying privately at home and then at local university for a Modern Languages degree while in Egypt. As a result, Ziyada had practical knowledge of Arabic, French, English, Italian, German, Spanish, Latin and Modern Greek. She graduated in 1917.

Ziyada was well known in Arab literary circles, receiving many male and female writers and intellectuals at a literary salon she established in 1912. 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.

Though she had never married, from 1912 onward, she maintained an extensive written correspondence with Khalil Gibran. While they never met in person as he was living in New York City, the correspondence lasted 19 years until his death in 1931, and Ziyada is credited with introducing his work to the Egyptian public.

Between 1928 and 1931, Ziyada suffered a series of personal losses, beginning with the death of her parents, her friends, and above all Khalil Gibran. She fell into a deep depression and returned to Lebanon where her relatives tried to place her in psychiatric hospital to gain control over her estate. Nawal El Saadawi submits that Ziade was sent to the hospital for expressing feminist sentiments. Ziyada eventually recovered her lucidity and returned to Cairo where she died on October 17, 1941.

Ziyada 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, "La 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 Orientalidentity.

Bearing a romantic streak from childhood, Ziyada 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.

Ziyada's first published work, Fleurs de rêve (1911), was a volume of poetry, written in French, using the pen name of Isis Copia. She would occasionally write in French, English or Italian, though 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 ran the most famous literary salon of the Arab world during the twenties and thirties in Cairo.

(From, the free encyclopedia)

Publications: (Arabic)

  • al-Hubb fi-l-madrasa (Love at school, short stories). Cairo: 1934
  • Nashid al-sharq (Hymm of the East, poem). Cairo: 1934
  • al-Sirr al-muwazza (The Open Secret, short stories). Cairo: 1935.

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