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Poets, Painters, Rebels, Spies: On Art and the (A)political in Beirut A joint book launch and conversation with Robyn Creswell and Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

ArteEast and the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies


Poets, Painters, Rebels, Spies: On Art and the (A)political in Beirut

A joint book launch and conversation with Robyn Creswell and Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Join us for a joint book launch of City of Beginnings by Robyn Creswell and Etel Adnan by Kaelen Wilson-Goldie. Robyn Creswell and Kaelen Wilson-Goldie will be in conversation around their new books highlighting Beirut’s modernity in poetry and painting.

Tuesday Feb. 12

Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies

255 Sullivan St (at Washington Square South)

A reception will follow.


Robyn Creswell
Author of City of Beginnings: Poetic Modernism in Beirut

City of Beginnings is an exploration of modernism in Arabic poetry, a movement that emerged in Beirut during the 1950s and became the most influential and controversial Arabic literary development of the twentieth century. Robyn Creswell introduces English-language readers to a poetic movement that will be uncannily familiar—and unsettlingly strange. He also provides an intellectual history of Lebanon during the early Cold War, when Beirut became both a battleground for rival ideologies and the most vital artistic site in the Middle East. Arabic modernism was centered on the legendary magazine Shi‘r (“Poetry”), which sought to put Arabic verse on “the map of world literature.” The Beiruti poets—Adonis, Yusuf al-Khal, and Unsi al-Hajj chief among them—translated modernism into Arabic, redefining the very idea of poetry in that literary tradition. City of Beginnings includes analyses of the Arab modernists’ creative encounters with Ezra Pound, Saint-John Perse, and Antonin Artaud, as well as their adaptations of classical literary forms. The book also reveals how the modernists translated concepts of liberal individualism, autonomy, and political freedom into a radical poetics that has shaped Arabic literary and intellectual debate to this day.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie 
Author of Etel Adnan

Etel Adnan (b.1925) is a Lebanese-American poet, essayist and visual artist. This will be the first book to present a full account of Adnan’s fascinating life and work, using the drama of her biography, the complexity of her identity, and the cosmopolitan nature of her experience to illuminate the many layers and dimensions of her paintings and their progress over several crucial decades. Adnan came relatively late to painting – her first images were created in the mid-1960s in response to the Californian landscape. Her vocabulary of lines, shapes and colours has changed little since then, and yet there are huge variations in mood, texture, composition and material. Similarly, there is a balance between understanding her paintings as pure abstractions, emulating the shape of thought, and seeing them for the actual landscapes of the many places Adnan has loved, embraced and responded to. Tackling the complexities of her subject with skill and insight, Kaelen Wilson-Goldie unpacks Adnan’s multi-layered career to capture the full scope of her artistic endeavours and impressive achievements.



Robyn Creswell is assistant professor of comparative literature at Yale University and a former poetry editor at the Paris Review. His writings have appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, and Harper’s Magazine, among many other publications. He is the translator of Abdelfattah Kilito’s The Tongue of Adam and Sonallah Ibrahim’s “That Smell” and “Notes from Prison.”

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie is a writer based in Beirut and New York. A contributing editor for Bidoun, she writes regularly for Artforum, Bookforum, Aperture, and Frieze. She has taught in the Department of Fine Art and Art History at the American University of Beirut and in the School of Visual Arts at the Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts (ALBA). She currently teaches in the MFA Art Writing Program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Etel Adnan, published by Lund Humphries, is her first book.

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