Who is May Ziade?

KONFRONTASI -  May Ziade (also Mayy Ziyādah, Arabic: مي زيادة‎; 11 February 1886 – 17 October 1941) was a Lebanese-Palestinian poet, essayist and translator.

Known as a prolific writer — she wrote for Arabicnewspapers and periodicals — Ziade also wrote a number of poems and books. She was a key figure of the Nahda in the early 20th-century Arab literary scene, and is known for being an "early feminist" and a "pioneer of Oriental feminism.  
Early and personal life

Ziade was born to a Lebanese Maronite father (from the Chahtoul family) and a Palestinian mother in Nazareth, Palestine. Her father, Elias Ziade, was editor of al-Mahrūsah.

Ziade attended primary school in Nazareth. As her father came to the Kesrouan region of Mount Lebanon, she was sent at 14 years of age to Aintoura to pursue her secondary studies at a Frenchconvent school for girls. Her studies in Aintoura exposed her to French literature and Romantic literature, to which she took a particular liking. She attended several Roman Catholic schools in Lebanon before returning, in 1904, 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.

Ziade never married, but from 1912 onward, she maintained an extensive written correspondence with one of the literary giants of the twentieth century, the Lebanese-American poet and writer Khalil Gibran. Although the pair never met, as he was living in New York City, the correspondence lasted 19 years until his death in 1931.

Between 1928 and 1932, Ziade suffered a series of personal losses, beginning with the death of her parents, a number of her friends, and above all Khalil Gibran. She fell into a deep depression and returned to Lebanon where her relatives placed her in a psychiatric hospital to gain control over her estate. Nawal El Saadawi submits that Ziade was sent to the hospital for expressing feminist sentiments. Ziade was profoundly humiliated and incensed by this decision; she eventually recovered and left after a medical report proved that she was of sound mental health. She returned to Cairo where she died on October 17, 1941.

Journalism and language studies

Ziade's father founded "Al Mahroussah" newspaper while the family was in Egypt after 1908. She contributed to a number of articles.

Ziade was particularly interested in learning languages. She studied privately at home alongside her French-Catholic education, and later at a local university for a Modern Languages degree while in Egypt. She graduated in 1917.As a result, Ziade was completely bilingual in Arabic and French, and had working knowledge of English, Italian, German, Spanish, Latin as well as Modern Greek.

Key Arab literary figure

Ziade 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.

Ziade is credited with introducing the work of Khalil Gibran to the Egyptian public.

Philosophical views


Unlike her peers Princess Nazli Fadil and Huda Sha'arawi, Mayy Ziyadah was more a 'woman of letters' than a social reformer. However, she was also involved in the women's emancipation movement. Ziade 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, "Le 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 Oriental identity. Despite her death in 1941 her writings still represent the ideals of the first wave of Lebanese feminism. Ziade believed in liberating women and the first wave focused on doing just that through education, receiving voting rights, and finally having representation in government.

Romanticism and Orientalism

Bearing a romantic streak from childhood, Ziade 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.


Ziade's first published work, Fleurs de rêve (1911), was a volume of poetry, written in French, using the pen name of Isis Copia. She wrote quite extensively in French, and occasionally English or Italian, but as she matured 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 hosted the most famous literary salon of the Arab world during the twenties and thirties in Cairo.

Well noted titles of her works in Arabic (with English translation in brackets) include:

- Al Bâhithat el-Bâdiya باحثة البادية ("Seeker in the Desert," pen name of Malak Hifni Naser)
- Sawâneh fatât سوانح فتاة (Platters of Crumbs)
- Zulumât wa Ichâ'ât ظلمات وأشعة (Humiliation and Rumors...)
- Kalimât wa Ichârât كلمات وأشارات (Words and Signs)
- Al Saha'ef الصحائف (The Newspapers)
- Ghayat Al-Hayât غاية الحياة (The Meaning of Life)
- Al-Musâwât المساواة (Equality)
- Bayna l-Jazri wa l-Madd بين الجزر والمد (Between the Ebb and Flow)


In 1999, May Ziade was named by the Lebanese Minister of Culture as the personage of the year around which the annual celebration of "Beirut, cultural capital of the Arab world" would be held.