Khaled Mattawa on Language

“Testing and expanding the language is part of writing poetry and poetic renewal. There’s never been a poetic revolution that was purely indigenous, that was not touched by translation or multilingualism.”

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—Khaled Mattawa, Academy of American Poets Chancellor

Born and raised in Benghazi, Libya, poet Khaled Mattawa relocated to the United States as a teenager in 1979. He received an undergraduate degree in political science and economics from the University of Tennessee; an MA and an MFA from Indiana University, where he also won an award from the Academy of American Poets; and a PhD from Duke University.

Influenced by Milan Kundera and Federico García Lorca, as well as the Arab poets whose work he translates, Mattawa’s poetry frequently explores the intersection of culture, narrative, and memory. In a 2007 Blackbird interview, addressing the connection between his emigration from Libya to the United States and his poetry, Mattawa observed, “I think memory was very important to my work as a structure, that the tone of remembrance, or the position of remembering, is very important, was a way of speaking when I was in between deciding to stay and not stay, and I had decided to stay.”

Mattawa has published several collections of poetry, including Tocqueville (2010), Amorisco (2008), Zodiac of Echoes (2003), and Ismailia Eclipse (1995). He has translated numerous volumes of contemporary Arabic poetry, including Shepherd of Solitude: Selected Poems of Amjad Nasser (2009) and Miracle Maker: Selected Poems of Fadhil Al-Azzawi (2004), in addition to co-editing the anthologies Dinarzad’s Children: An Anthology of Arab American Fiction (2004) and Post Gibran: Anthology of New Arab American Writing (1999).

Mattawa has been awarded several Pushcart Prizes and the PEN Award for Literary Translation, in addition to a translation grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, the Alfred Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University, and a MacArthur fellowship.

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