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Meena Alexander

Photo credit: Marion Ettlinger

Meena Alexander was born in India, raised there and in Sudan. At eighteen she went to England to study. She has a special interest in poetry and poetics; questions of gender, migration and memory. She teaches in the Ph.D. program in English at the Graduate Center and the MFA program at Hunter College. She has a BA Honors from Khartoum University in English and French and a PhD from Nottingham University in English Studies. Her scholarly work includes two books on English Romanticism; her work in poetics includes a book of poems and essays The Shock of Arrival: Reflections on Postcolonial Experience. Her volumes of poetry include Stone Roots ; House of a Thousand Doors ; River and Bridge; Illiterate Heart (winner of the PEN Open Book Award); Raw Silk ; and two chapbooks, each a single long poem: The Storm: A Poem in Five Parts, and Night-Scene, the Garden. Her new collection Quickly Changing River will appear in February 2008. She is the editor of Indian Love Poems. Her first poems were published when she was a teenager in Sudan, in Arabic translation and much of her work is concerned with migration and its impact on the writer’s subjectivity, and with the sometimes violent events that compel people to cross borders.

She has read at Poetry International London, Struga Poetry Evenings, Poetry Africa, Calabash Festival, Harbor Front Festival, Poetry Society, India and other international gatherings. She is the author of the memoir Fault Lines (chosen byPublishers Weekly as one of the best books of the year) and has published two novels. She has received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, Fulbright Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Arts Council of England, National Endowment for the Humanities, American Council of Learned Societies, National Council for Research on Women, New York State Council on the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, Ledig-Rowohlt Foundation; she was in residence at the MacDowell Colony and has held the Martha Walsh Pulver residency for a poet at Yaddo. She has been a Visiting Fellow at the Sorbonne (Paris IV); Frances Wayland Collegium Lecturer at Brown University; Writer in Residence at the Center for American Culture Studies at Columbia University; University Grants Commission Fellow, Kerala University; Writer in Residence, National University of Singapore. In 1998 she was a Member of the Jury for the Neustadt International Award in Literature. She has been named an Elector, American Poets Corner, Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York.

Some Books


Fault Lines: A Memoir
(“Best Books of 1993” Publishers Weekly)

“This new edition of Fault Lines shows us a poet intent on seeing herself straight … the narrative digs deeper into childhood and reexamines adulthood more painfully than its predecessor, but it carries the same magic of language and image.” — Jill Ker Conway

“Meena Alexander will be a part of the history of global culture. She knows how it looks, feels, tastes and sounds; how it creates and splits identity. Ten years ago, she published an extraordinary memoir, Fault Lines. Now with her habitual courage and subtlety and eloquence, she has interlaced the memoir’s words with new experiences, perceptions, pain, and visions. Fault Lines is faultless.” –Catherine R. Stimpson

“It is difficult to find words with which to preface Meena Alexander’s personal memories. As brilliantly captured in this new edition of Fault Lines, the memories are their own preface and introduction to a mesmerizing text culled from a life lived in fragments and migrations, a quest for nadu at home and in exile … Hers is a life where the present and past are simultaneous remembrances of each other. Her here, in India, Sudan, Europe, and the United States, is both everywhere and nowhere, a life of a ceaseless search for answers where the only certainty is the qalam she holds in her hand, with which she stitches together the fragments of her experience to make a healing wholeness. After all, as a writer she asks, what does she have but the raw materials of her own life?” — Ngugi wa Thiong’o , From the preface to the new edition of Fault Lines


Nampally Road 

(Village Voice Literary Supplement, Editors’ Choice)

“Like Meena Alexander’s poetry, her first novel is a deeply moving blend of lyric beauty and uncompromising toughness.Nampally Road plunges into the tumult, squalor, and corruption of postcolonial India, yet stands back from it at the same time. Alexander’s prose is both passionate and hard, vividly immediate yet always crystal clear… a grim, beautiful book” — Walter Kendrick

“With its restless crowds, cinemas, shops, temples, mango sellers, cobblers, cafes, and bars, Nampally Road becomes a metaphor for contemporary India. Alexander has given us an unsentimental, multifaceted portrait, thankfully remote from that of the British Raj. Her lyrical narrative has the eloquent economy that marks her best poetry … Alexander treads the waters of fiction lightly and gracefully” — Village Voice.

Indian Love Poems
(Edited Anthology)

“This delightful compendium of translations selected and edited by poet Meena Alexander for the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poet series is tiny, only 250 pages, but it’s an encyclopedia in disguise: nothing’s missing. The poems are sometimes passionate, sometimes poignant, sometimes pitiless, often wry, witty or amusing, almost never angry. The lovers are hopeful, fearful, ecstatic, euphoric, fulfilled, reflective, resigned, bemused, sad, calm. Whether the selection was written 2000 years ago in Sanskrit, Prakit or Old Tamil or only yesterday in the languages of modern India (Hindi, Oriya, Urdu, Malayalam, Punjabi, Bengali, Kannada, English), the feelings ring true. And the book’s organization couldn’t be more perfect. It follows the very trajectory of love: waiting, meeting, parting. Serenity and wisdom come from accepting the inevitability of this trajectory’s occurring.” — Patricia Lee Sharpe



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