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Meena Alexander

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Meena Alexander
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Meena Alexander was born in Allahabad, India on February 17, 1951. She was raised in both India and the Sudan, in North Africa. She received a bachelor's degree in French and English from Khartoum University, and a doctorate in English from Nottingham University in England.

Alexander's collections of poetry include Birthplace with Buried Stones (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2013), Quickly Changing River (TriQuarterly Books, 2008), Raw Silk (2004), and Illiterate Heart (2002), the winner of a 2002 PEN Open Book Award. Her work has been widely anthologized and translated into several languages including Malayalam, Hindi, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, French, German and Swedish. Even her very first published poems were acts of translation: written as a teenager in English, they were published in a Sudanese newspaper translated into Arabic. Her poems have also been set to music, most recently "Acqua Alta" by the Swedish composer Jan Sandstrom.

Polyglot and sensual, Alexander's work has been influenced and mentored by the Indian poets Jayanta Mahapatra and Kamala Das, as well as the American poets Adrienne Rich and Galway Kinnell. Her poems frequently confront the difficult issues of exile and identity, while still maintaining a generous spirit. About her work, Maxine Hong Kingston has said: "Meena Alexander sings of countries, foreign and familiar, places where the heart and spirit live, and places for which one needs a passport and visas. Her voice guides us far away and back home. The reader sees her visions and remembers and is uplifted."

Alexander is also the editor of Indian Love Poems (Everyman’s Library/ Knopf, 2005) and the author of two novels, Nampally Road (1991), and Manhattan Music (1997), and The Shock of Arrival: Reflections on Postcolonial Experience (1996), a volume of poems and essays. Her works of criticism include Poetics of Dislocation (University of Michigan Press, 2009); Women in Romanticism: Mary Wollstonecraft, Dorothy Wordsworth and Mary Shelley (1989); and The Poetic Self: Towards a Phenomenology of Romanticism (1979). Her memoir, Fault Lines, was reissued by the Feminist Press in 2003 with a Coda composed after 9/11.

She has received awards and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Fulbright Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Arts Council of England, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Council for Research on Women, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. She has taught at the University of Hyderabad, Fordham University and Columbia University's Writing Program. In 2014, she was named a National Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study. She is Distinguished Professor of English at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

by this poet


The periodic pleasure
of small happenings
is upon us—
behind the stalls
at the farmer’s market
snow glinting in heaps,
a cardinal its chest
puffed out, bloodshod
above the piles of awnings,
passion’s proclivities;
you picking up a sweet potato
turning to me  ‘

I was young when you came to me. 
Each thing rings its turn, 
you sang in my ear, a slip of a thing 
dressed like a convent girl--
white socks, shoes, 
dark blue pinafore, white blouse.

A pencil box in hand: girl, book, tree-- 
those were the words you gave me. 
Girl was penne, hair drawn back, 

Snails circle
A shed where a child was born.

She bled into straw—
Who can write this?

Under Arcturus,
Rubble of light:

We have no words
For what is happening—

Still language endures
Celan said

As he stood in a torn
Green coat