E-mails from Scheherazad

Mohja Kahf

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"Perhaps Kahf's most impressive accomplishment is her ability to bring together beauty and pain in the same breath, to write poems that encompass history and human endurance as well as joy, that testify to the fragility and power of the human heart. . . . This is Kahf's ultimate message: that religion and ethnicity and color and nationality are as nothing in the face of simple humanity; that spirituality and life are beyond all of these, that no creed or ideology may be taken as justification for harm."--Lisa Suhair Majaj

Kahf establishes herself as a new voice in the tradition of ethnic American poets, blending the experiences of recent Arab-American immigrants into contemporary American scenery. In her poems, Muslim ritual and Qur'anic vocabulary move in next door to the idiom of suburban Americana, and the legendary Scheherazad of the Thousand and One Nights shows up in New Jersey, recast as a sophisticated postcolonial feminist.

Kahf’s carefully crafted poems do not speak only to important issues of ethnicity, gender, and religious diversity in America, but also to universal human themes of family and kinship, friendship, and the search for a place to pray. She chronicles the specific griefs and pleasures of the immigrant and writes an amulet for womanly power in the face of the world’s terrors. Her poetic energy is provocative and sassy, punctuated now and then with a darker poem of elegiac sadness or refined rage.

Mohja Kahf is associate professor of comparative literature at the University of Arkansas.
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Paterson Poetry Prize -

"Scheherazad as a postcolonial feminist in New Jersey? It works. Poignant but defiantly unsentimental, these encouraging poems from Syrian-born Kahf reconfigure the Arab American experience."
--Library Journal

"Kahf astutely considers the myriad conundrums and frustrations of women's lives in general and Muslim women in particular, and she is brilliantly wry and utterly irresistible in such show-stoppers as her poem about a walk-out staged by all the chilly and hungry female nudes and odalisques in a Matisse retrospective."

"This evocative collection of poetry by a Syrian American creates characters and tells stories on a budget of well-chosen words that have a high emotional impact. . . . Most unique and satisfying is that these poems offer a glimpse into the intimate thoughts and fellings of Arabs new to America, who come from ancient lands with rich histories and a different set of social norms. . . . A fresh perspective on American multiculturalism."
--Multicultural Review

"A remarkable debut. . . . These poems are to be read, reread, and sent to poetry readers around the country."
--Bloomsbury Review

"Mohja Kahf poems perform. They come out of the page and force you to pay attention to them. Every poem, every line tells a story. A story that tells another story. . . . These poems manifest beauty and inspire us to search for more."

"Kahf . . . draws sharp, funny, earthy portraits of the fault line separating Muslim women from their Western counterparts.
--New York Times

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