Disclaimer: Sebenarnya tulisan singkat ini adalah salah satu tugas bikin lema ensiklopedia tentang penulis perempuan Arab. Tapi, mengingat ketenaran Khalil Gibran (atau Kahlil Gibran) di Indonesia, dan pernah diterjemahkannya buku surat cinta Gibran kepada Mai Ziadeh, maka saya pikir perlu juga dishare di sini, meskipun belum sempat saya terjemahkan. Semoga yang saya pelajari juga bisa jadi bahan belajar orang lain:
Mai Ziadeh (1886 – 1941). Mai Ziadeh was born in Palestine to a Lebanese teacher and a well-educated Palestinian mother. As a young girl, she went to a Roman Catholic convent in Lebanon where she learned to speak French. With her family, teenage Ziadeh moved to Egypt where her father eventually acquired a newspaper company called Al-Mahrousa. Her love for poetry was accommodated by her father’s newspaper company and the intellectual circle that came with it. In 1913, this same newspaper published Ziadeh’s first article in Arabic, in which she espouses her concerns for the emancipation of women. Around this time, Ziadeh published her poems in French under the pseudonym “Isis Copia.” While Ziadeh had the competence to speak and write in several languages, including French and Italian, her later intellectual career saw her increased used of mostly Arabic in her literary works.
Turn of the century Egypt gave her the much-needed intellectual atmosphere thanks the presence of writers, journalists and men-of-letters from throughout the Arab World who migrated to Egypt. The dynamic intellectual and literary zeitgeist is now known as Al-Nahda or the cultural renaissance. Ziadeh started a literary salon that hosted discussions which included the likes of Taha Husayn, Abbas el-Akkad, as well as a number of scholars from the Azhar University. This wide range of audience suggests the tolerant atmosphere of this circle, which Antje Ziegler ascribes to Ziadeh’s being “a woman and Syrian-Christian immigrant in Egyptian-Muslim society [who] … was strongly dependent on integration and throughout her life and throughout her life advocated the reconciliation of conflicting views” (Ziegler 115). Her active role among the literati is complemented with the articles that she published in various newspapers and magazines in, among others, Egypt, Lebanon, and Italy.
While she was a prominent figure among the Nahda generation of Arab authors, albeit as “the lady” of the cultural scene, her popularity in the West was mostly due to her association with the immigrant Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran. According to Khalil Gibran’s biography Khalil Gibran, the Man and His World, Ziadeh’s relationship with the poet started sometime in 1913 after the publication of the poet’s book The Broken Wings in 1913. Khalil Gibran admired Ziadeh’s intellectual prowess when she sent him a thorough critique of Gibran’s later work. While they never physically met, Ziadeh’s and Gibran’s relationship was undoubtedly special; Gibran describes this relationship as “stronger than blood and racial bond … [that] can exist between two people who have never been together in the past and in the present and whom the future will not bring together” (Gibran and Gibran 368). Indeed they never really met in person throughout their 19 years correspondence. The letters from Gibran were later published through the translation of editing work of Suheil Bushrui and Salma Haffar al-Kuzbari in Love Letters: The Love Letter of Khalil Gibran and Mai Ziadah. When later in life Mai Ziadeh was sent to a mental hospital by her cousin, it was rumored that “she lost control when her love letters to Gibran were stolen” (Samman).
Ghada Samman, in “The Victim of Beauty: Reviving the Literary Legacy of Mai Ziadeh,” highlights Ziadeh’s suffering from the harmful admiration and lack of appreciation from male literary figures who were members of her literary circle. Citing Abbas el-Akkad as a “typical example” of how Ziadeh’s male contemporaries saw her, Samman puts an emphasis on how “[el-Akkad] wrote of her elegance and beauty, yet overlooked her significance in the literary movement.” Samman sees this as an instance of “a renunciation … of all women writers capable of rising to the standard of men.” Another instance of this attitude, as Samman finds, is lines from a poem by Ismail Sabri, himself also a member of Ziadeh’s literary salon: “If I do not delight my eyes by Mai, I will deny your morning, O Tuesday.” This ironic lack of appreciation from what was supposed to be Ziadeh’s audience tells a lot about her attachment to Gibran. Instead of receiving her due respect as a writer and thinker, she was dubbed the “Bride of Feminine Literature.”
It was only later that Ziyadeh’s works saw the light of day and enjoyed appreciation. Antje Ziegler narrates the re-discovery of Ziadeh’s works which started half a century after the tragic end of Ziyadeh’s life. Kuzbari collected her scattered works in a “Complete Works of May Ziyadeh.” Kuzbari was also credited for dispelling “the tale of [May Ziadeh’s] insanity” through her perusal of documents and facts such as reports from Ziadeh’s doctor and the fact that she still published during her stay in the mental hospital. Joseph Zeydan of Ohio State University edited Ziadeh’s works. Zeigler points out that “with the late rediscovery of Mayy Ziyada’s works, creative power seems to finally triumph over the power of myths” and she relates this rediscovery to the tendency among the Arab intellectual the “recall the liberal-secular concepts of the nahda in the face of the spreading Islamist ideology” in the 1980s (15).
Google search engine, in its frequently modified logo in commemoration of holidays and events (popularly known as Google Doodle), displayed a Mai Ziadeh edition in February 2012 to commemorate her 126th birthday. Interestingly, the logo was tagged “thinking, birthday, literature, writer.” Her popularity in the English-speaking world was mostly associated with her intellectually erotic relationship with Khalil Gibran. None of Mai Ziadeh’s full collections of works have been translated into English.
____, “The Mirror of Mai.” Al-Ahram Weekly. No. 451. 14 – 20 October 1999. Web. 14 Mar 2014.
Ghada al-Samman, “The Victim of Beauty: Reviving the Literary Legacy of Mai Ziadeh.” Al Jadid. 5. 28 (Summer 1999). Web. 12 Mar 2014.
Gibran, Jean and Kahlil Gibran. Kahlil Gibran, His Life and World. United States: Interlink Publishing: 1981, 1991, 1998. Print.
Safenah Kazem, “Introducing Miss Mai,” Al-Ahram Weekly. No. 451. 14 – 20 October 1999. Web. 14 Mar 2014.
Ziegler, Antje. “Al-Haraka Baraka! The Late Rediscovery of Mayy Ziyada’s Works.” Die Welt des Islams, New Ser. 39. 1 (March 1999): 103-115. JSTOR. Web. 12 Mar 2014.