“The New Pencil League” is inspired by Gibran Khalil Gibran
For 17 years of his career in New York
Sunday – 14 Shawwal 1443 AH – 15 May 2022 AD Issue No. [
During Bassem Said Akl’s Cedar Planting in New York, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at the Miller Theater at the Rahbaneh Concert in 2009
Beirut: Sawsan Al-Abtah
It is not possible to make comparisons between the “Pen League” founded by the elite of Lebanese diaspora writers in New York and which became official in 1920 and became popular, and the “New Pen League” in the same city. , which was founded in 2005, almost a century later, with Arab will and Lebanese dynamism, and it is still striving to fulfill its role. Times have changed, circumstances have changed, and the meaning of diaspora itself has changed due to the ease of new communications and the place of literary works in people’s lives. From there, Youssef Abdel-Samad, the dean of the New PEN League, believes that the similarity between the two names does not in any way mean a reproduction of the old experience, as much as it is the illumination and the inspiration of ‘a beautiful past that deserves pride.
The “New PEN League” was not born in a moment of protest, nor in a sudden decision, but rather as the culmination of a movement and a number of cultural activities that preceded its official announcement and his agreement to give it an entity, a name and a framework. Before the 90s of the last century, Abdel Samad says: “It was difficult to gather twenty Arabs to attend a poetry reading in New York, and most of the meetings were about music and singing. There have therefore been persistent attempts to bring interested Arabs together in meetings that have remained modest. Abdel Samad recalls that the gathering was growing and that a literary musical evening was held in 1995 at the famous “Cami Hall” in New York, presented by the consul general of Lebanon Ramy Shedid, in which Abdel Samad participated with Lamia Abbas Emara, Nahida Fadla Al-Dajani, Simon Shaheen, Mansour Ajami and Ghada Ghanem, there were more people standing than sitting. And it was an encouraging start, after which activities followed, which met with an eager public, which itself suffered from a void, and it found what it wanted in this active movement.
Gradually, the house of the Saudi consul general in New York at the time, Dr. Abdullah Al-Judaya, a poetry lover, was transformed into a literary salon par excellence, according to Abdul Samad. The “New PEN League” was created during one of these sessions, which included people interested in literature and thought. Saudi poet and diplomat Abdullah Al-Judaya gained the upper hand by obtaining a license from the federal government and building bridges between Arab intellectuals themselves and American cultural institutions. A founding committee and interim administration emerged, with Abdel Samad as dean, Dr. George Younan as deputy, Dr. Samira Madi in charge of public relations and finance, and Anton Shashaa in charge of linguistic affairs and editorial management. Emissions are an integral part of the ambition of the association.
Poet Youssef Abdel Samad talks to Asharq Al-Awsat about the many activities carried out by the Association. It came after a vacuum and a shallow Arab cultural presence. He says, “We were having parties and meetings, and we weren’t without a sound, but it was still weak.” And what the Arab community suffered from at the time was fragmentation instead of coordination. Among the tasks proposed to the League, there is that of having its own cultural program which gathers the Arab community around it, taking into account diversity. There was a belief that the Arab cultural presence is not commensurate with what can be achieved and that the scene needs to be changed. I would therefore like the activities to be integrated so that, in addition to culture, they take into account economic and social realities. aspect, and can bring those scattered gatherings together.
The ambition was to go beyond publishing a magazine, in which feathers write from here and elsewhere, expressing the feelings and problems of immigrants. Rather, the goal was to move away from seasonality in favor of a program with its ramifications and vision. Among what the League has accomplished is that it has documented, according to Abdel Samad, the Lebanese zajal through a film on the improvised azjal, in cooperation with the Lebanese consulate in New York and the American “Stellar” Foundation. . The association has also entered into a cooperation agreement with the American Doctors Association and the institution that deals with the Dr. Dahesh Museum and its literary heritage, and with the Arab Dialogue Center. And according to what the League made a future study on the unification of the expatriates of Lebanon, which was then adopted by the “Lebanese Cultural University in the world”.
Thus, within the framework of its activities, the Association honored literary and intellectual personalities, including Gibran Khalil Gibran, on the occasion of his 125th anniversary at Columbia University, in the presence of the Lebanese Minister of Culture of era, Tariq Mitri. The poet also honored Said Akl on the occasion of his centenary, and distributed four cedars of Lebanon, on Broadway Street: one from Gibran, a second from Edward Said, a third from Said Akl, and a fourth from “Inspirational Arts”, in addition to hosting dozens of poetry and heritage evenings. However, as Abdel Samad explains, the New York City Council no longer allows the cultivation of such cedars and prohibits them because they are not among the plants listed on the calendar allowed to be planted on city streets.
Abdel-Samad describes what the association does as “long and difficult work”. He says: “Faces have changed, and many have left us during the march, but it continues. We admit there are negatives and mistakes, but what we care about is not the foam, but rather what benefits people and stays on the earth.
A few months ago, a new issue of the Arabic and English magazine Qalam Muhajira was published, which was the initiator of the activities at the beginning of the establishment, and was considered the voice of the “New Qalam Association”, and he always strives to survive. This time, the magazine honors a prominent emigrant writer, Amin Al-Rihani, and before him Elia Abu Madi and Mikhail Naima were honored. The magazine’s editor, Christine Zaatar Maalouf, wrote in this issue: “Members of the Loyal Gibraniya League have experienced the suffering of their families due to hunger, injustice and tyranny, and c was strange. As for us today, we suffer the most repulsive thing, for he is a parent.
In the early 1990s, a group of Arab intellectuals who would later form the nucleus of the New PEN League operated under the name Muhajira pens. The new name brought a burden to them, so they had to struggle culturally, not only in New York, but outside, expanding their activities to Beirut, Zahlé, Ras El Matn and many other places. The Association has partnered with the Lebanese American University, the American University of Beirut and the Department of New York to activate its role. Among what is meant by the new association is the English translation of books published by members of the old association, and the provision of an introduction to each translation that places the book in its historical context and literary. He is also in charge of translating books by well-known Lebanese writers such as Maroun Abboud and Tawfiq Youssef Awad.
The activities of the “Pen League” ended with the death of Gibran Khalil Gibran in 1932. Although she officially lived only 12 years, she turned into a school and a model, due to the stature of its poles. The new association is 17 years old, and it is still keen to continue its activities despite the slowness of its movement for two years due to the epidemic, but according to Abdel-Samad, it is recovering and continuing its project.