Jamil B. Holway

1883 –

Jamil Butrus Holway was born in Damascus, Syria, on August 15, 1883. He graduated from Syrian Protestant College (now, American University in Beirut), then relocated to Chicago, where his parents were residing, at the turn of the twentieth century. Holway later lived in Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas before moving to Brooklyn, New York, in 1928 with his family. He remained there for the rest of his life.

Holway published only one book during his lifetime—Al-Muhajir al-Suri (The Syrian Immigrant)—released in 1910 by Al-Hoda Press. The Syrian Immigrant is a compilation of articles by Holway about the experiences of Arab immigrants in the U.S. Aside from this work, he sporadically published poems and essays in various journals and newspapers. Though Holway was a member of the Pen League, which included the better-known writers Kahlil Gibran and Ameen Rihani, and was part of the first generation of Mahjar writers based in New York, he is not generally regarded as part of the Mahjar’s main circle. In recent years, some editors have worked to redress his omission from the canon. His poem “Throbbings,” translated by George Dimitri Selim, has been included in the three-volume series The New Anthology of American Poetry (Rutgers University Press, 2003), edited by Steven Gould Axelrod, Camille Roman, and Thomas Travisano. Holway has also been anthologized in Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab-American Poetry (Interlink Books, 2000). 

In 1907, Holway began to work as an interpreter and examiner for the U.S. Immigration Service. He resigned from this position in 1918 to practice law. During the Second World War, he worked for the Office of War Information’s interventionist “Fight for Freedom” effort. Holway died on February 14, 1946.