Volume 1, September 2014
Talk by Mikey Muhanna
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The Pen League (Arabic: الرابطة القلمية / ALA-LC: al-Rābiṭah al-Qalamiyah), also known as “al-Mahjar“, was the first Arab-American literary society, formed initially by Nasib Arida and Abdul Massih Haddad in 1915 or 1916, and subsequently re-formed in 1920 by a group of Arab writers in New York led by Gibran Khalil Gibran, from a group of writers who has been working closely since 1911. The league dissolved following Gibran’s death in 1931 and Mikhail Naimy’s return to Lebanon in 1932.
The primary goals of The Pen League were, in Naimy’s words as Secretary, “to lift Arabic
literature from the quagmire of stagnation and imitation, and to infuse a new life into its veins so as to make of it an active force in the building up of the Arab nations”, and to promote a new generation of Arab writers. As Naimy expressed in the by-laws he drew up for the group:
The tendency to keep our language and literature within the narrow bounds of aping the ancients in form and substance is a most pernicious tendency; if left unopposed, it will soon lead to decay and disintegration… To imitate them is a deadly shame… We must be true to ourselves if we would be true to our ancestors.
Literary historian Nadeem Naimy assesses the group’s importance as having shifted the criteria of aesthetic merit in Arabic literature: