December 2002, Vol.4 - No.2

The Anis K. Makdisi Program in Literature

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Program Director Maher Jarrar addresses the audience. From left: M. Baalbaki, M. Solh, M. Najm and M. Jeha

 A ceremony redolent of the traditional relationship between the American University of Beirut and the cultural elite of Ras Beirut inaugurated the Anis K. Makdisi Program in Literature in the Assembly Hall on October 22. The audience was filled with dignitaries: Presidents Rashid Al-Solh and Salim Hoss, AUB Trustee Ghassan Tueni, Ambassadors Nadim Dimashkieh and Khalil Makkawi, and Ambassador Abdallah Abu Habib representing Associate Prime Minister Issam Fares. President John Waterbury, Provost Peter Heath, many members and friends of the Makdisi family, plus a considerable number of personalities, professors, and students were in the audience.

  Anis K. Makdisi (1885-1977), an intellectual and man of literature, studied and taught for a number of years at AUB. He was one of the founders of the Department of Arabic in 1925 and served as chair of the department from 1929 until his retirement in 1950, when he was appointed professor emeritus. He later was granted the Lebanese Gold Medal for Education, and was visiting professor at the Institute of Higher Studies in Cairo and at the University of Tehran. In 1961 he was elected member of the Arabic Language Academy in Cairo (delivering a lecture every year), and in 1963 he was granted the Medal of the President of the Republic (Friends of the Book Club).

  Throughout his professional career and after his retirement, Professor Makdisi published numerous articles and books on Arabic language and literature in addition to works of criticism and translation. (His translations from English to Arabic include In Memoriam by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper.) He published his memoirs and a volume, In the Company of Time, and a volume of his own poetry, Al-Waqafat. With his brother, Jirjis, he founded a "scientific, literary, and social journal," Al-Mawrid Al-Safi ("The Clear Spring"), of which he was co-editor from 1909-1940.

  Last year members of the University faculty and the Makdisi family met to consider the best way to honor Professor Makdisi, and the Anis K. Makdisi Program in Literature was born and organized under the aegis of an advisory committee consisting of Provost Peter Heath; Maher Jarrar, assistant professor of Arabic and director of the program; As'ad Khairallah, professor of Arabic; Andrew Long, assistant professor of English literature; and Saree Makdisi, grandson of Anis and associate professor of English literature at the University of Chicago.
Professor Jarrar, the master of ceremonies, opening the inaugural ceremony with a review of the life of Professor Makdisi, emphasized his liberal approach to life and education, his humility, and his belief in nationalism and freedom from imperialism. Jarrar paid tribute to Makdisi's role as "the driving force behind. . .the modernization and development of AUB's Department of Arabic.

  Jarrar also set forth the aims of the program: to promote and support "an interdisciplinary dialogue and an openness to different cultural forms and traditions in the study of literature, in keeping with the approaches elaborated in the work of Anis K. Makdisi." He presented the four main activities of the program: an annual memorial lecture delivered by a leading literary scholar or a noted author of poetry or prose; a seminar series on various topics concerning literary and cultural studies to be offered over the course of a week by scholars, writers, and artists from outside the University; informal lectures, discussions, and colloquia designed to promote scholarly dialogue among the academic communities of Beirut; and two annual student scholarships, the Anis K. Makdisi Graduate Fellowship and the Anis K. Makdisi Scholarship in Literature for undergraduate students.

 Professor Saree Makdisi, grandson of Anis and member of the Advisory Committee, spoke of Anis Makdis's pioneering role in determining the course of Arabic literature in the first half of the twentieth century. Professor Makdisi described his grandfather's literary work as liberal, its main concern being supporting exchange with other literary cultures.

  Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Khalil Bitar paid special tribute to the benefits the University and the area of Ras Beirut have received through the services and hard work of such families as the Makdisis.

  President Waterbury cited Anis Makdisi's involvement in the literary renaissance, the resurgence.

  Following the introductory speeches four of Anis Makdisi's friends, colleagues, and students--Muhammad Baalbaki, Mounah Solh, Dr. Michel Jeha, and long time member of the Arabic department Dr. Muhammad Y. Najm--recounted moving accounts of their recollections of their mentor and his work.

  Finally, Nadim Makdisi, Anis' son, spoke on behalf of the Makdisi family. He expressed gratitude for AUB's initiative in establishing the program, and concluded by reciting some of his father's verses.

NB: The first seminar sponsored by the Anis K. Makdisi Program in Literature is planned for December 16 from 9 am until 5 pm with four participants from abroad talking on the subject of globalization. See the AUB Calendar for further notice.


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