May 22 2020

Etel Adnan Wins Griffin Poetry Prize

by Ashlyn Chak

ETEL ADNAN has won the 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize for her book of poetry about war, heartbreak, and memory. Image via the Facebook of the Museum of Art and Design at MDC, Miami. 

On May 19, artist and writer Etel Adnan was announced as the international winner of the 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize for her collection of poems, Time (2019), sharing the prize and cash reward of CAD 65,000 (USD 46,440) with author Sarah Riggs who translated her book from French to English. 

The winning volume opens with the lines “Sometimes I get ready for the / voyage of no return, but dawn raises the curtains, and my adolescence / is standing at the corner / of nowhere / Under the wonder of / cold skies." Adnan’s writing was praised by the judges as “astonishing” for “how she manages to give weariness its own relentless energy.” Time is a non-linear exchange of poems between Adnan and Tunis-born poet Khaled Najar, whom she met in the late 1970s, and circles the themes of war, heartbreak, and memory.

Born in Beirut in 1925, Adnan was educated in Lebanon’s French schools before studying philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris. At the age of 30, she moved to the United States for postgraduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and at Harvard University, in Massachusetts, later going on to teach at various American universities for several decades. During her time in academia, she began to explore the medium of painting as an alternate form of expression in an attempt to counter the political implications of writing in French, triggered by her emotional connections to the Algerian War of Independence. She is known for her colorful, abstracted landscape paintings, often based on California’s Mount Tamalpais, a recurring motif in her work. 

Adnan’s artworks were exhibited in 2012 at Documenta 13 in Kassel. In 2014, she was named a chevalier (knight) of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) by the French Minister of Culture. That same year, her paintings and tapestries were featured at the 2014 Whitney Biennial in New York.  In 2018, an exhibition of her “New Work” was held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Founded in 2000 by businessman and philanthropist Scott Griffin, the Griffin Poetry Prize annually awards two poets, one Canadian and one international, for first-edition works written in or translated into English and published one year before the award. The winners are each conferred USD 46,440, while a prize of CAD 10,000 (USD 7,200) is given to all finalists. The judges this year included Irish playwright Paula Meehan, Jamaican author Kei Miller, and American poet Hoa Nguyen.

Kaie Kellough is the 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize Canadian winner for Magnetic Equator (2019), which explores issues of migration and exile. 

Ashlyn Chak is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.

Silverlens Artspace AAA ACAW ARNDT