Etel Adnan was born on February 24, 1925, in Beirut, Lebanon. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, as well as at the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard University.
She authored more than a dozen books of poetry, fiction, and essays, including Shifting the Silence (Nightboat Books, 2020), Time (Nightboat Books, 2019), translated by Sarah Riggs and winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize, Surge (Nightboat Books, 2018), and Night (Nightboat Books, 2016). Her poetry collection Sea and Fog (Nightboat, 2012) won the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry and the California Book Award. She is also the recipient of a PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Award and in 2014 was named a member of the Ordre de Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, one of France's highest cultural honors.
Also a renowned painter, Adnan has had work featured in exhibits at the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum among many others. In 2018, MASS MoCA featured a retrospective of her visual work noting, "For Adnan, painting and poetry are two languages of many that she has mastered over a lifetime. Like a translator, she moves between them in pursuit of pure meaning."
She lived for many years in Sausalito, California, and taught at the Dominican University of California in San Rafael. She lived in Paris until her death on November 13, 2021.