The Saadi Simawe Memorial Reading will be given by award winning poets, Jamaal May and Tarfia Faizullah on Thursday, October 5th as part of the Writers@Grinnell series at Grinnell College. The event, which is free and open to the public, will start at 8 p.m. in the Faulconer Gallery in the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts.
In addition, May and Faizullah will lead a roundtable discussion, which is free and open to the public, at 4:15 p.m., also in the Faulconer Gallery.
Jamaal May is the author of Hum (Alice James Books, 2013) and The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James Books, 2016). His first collection received a Lannan Foundation Grant, American Library Association’s Notable Book Award, and was named a finalist for the Tufts Discovery Award and an NAACP Image Award. Jamaal’s other honors include a Spirit of Detroit Award, the Wood Prize from Poetry, an Indiana Review Prize, and fellowships from The Stadler Center, The Kenyon Review, and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Italy. Jamaal May’s poetry explores the tension between opposites to render a sonically rich argument for the interconnectivity of people, worlds, and ideas. He co-directs OW! Arts with Tarfia Faizullah.
Bangladeshi American poet Tarfia Faizullah grew up in Midland, Texas. She earned an MFA from the Virginia Commonwealth University program in creative writing. Her first book, Seam (2014), won the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Focused around a long sequence “Interview with a Birangona,” the book explores the ethics of interviewing as well as the history of the birangona, Bangladeshi women raped by Pakistani soldiers during the Liberation War of 1971. Faizullah received a Fulbright award to travel to Bangladesh and interview the birangona. Faizullah lives in Detroit where she teaches at the University of Michigan. Her second book is Registers of Illuminated Villages (Graywolf Press, 2018).
This event is dedicated to the memory of Saadi Simawe...
Saadi Simawe joined Grinnell’s English department in 1992. He gained tenure in 2000, went on to SFS in 2008, and transferred to emeritus status in 2012. His Ph.D. was awarded by the University of Iowa and his teaching and research interests included Arabic language and literature, Middle Eastern literatures, and the study of literary interconnections between the West and the Islamic East. From 1994 to 1998, he was director of the Grinnell Writers’ Conference, inviting significant authors to come to Grinnell to read from their work. He convened a Race and Ethnicity Reading Group of faculty members, and helped plan a number of symposia at the College.
In addition to teaching and service to the College, Simawe taught at Nanjing University as part of the Grinnell-Nanjing exchange and was a Fulbright teacher-scholar at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal. He specialized in African-American literature and maintained a keen scholarly interest in the constructions and expressions of blackness in Arabic literature. He brought this into his classes, introducing in his African-American literature courses elements from Arabic and Islamic literature and Grinnell recognized his scholarship with a Rosenbloom Award for Interdisciplinary Study of the Arts in 1999. In 2000, he published Black Orpheus: Music in African American Fiction from the Harlem Renaissance to Toni Morrison. He also published widely on Arabic literature.
A native of Iraq, Simawe was imprisoned as a dissident under the Saddam Hussein regime during the 1970s. He came to the United States for graduate studies and never returned to Iraq. After becoming a U.S. citizen, he frequently traveled abroad to maintain a close network with the Iraqi diaspora. He was well known as a sensitive translator and an advocate for Arabic literature, particularly Iraqi art and literature.
Simawe was highly regarded by early career faculty at Grinnell as an excellent and thoughtful mentor. A scholar whose body of work bridged cultures, he was known to deploy a formidable wit and a wonderful sense of language to confront the sorrows of history. Regarded by all as a lovely, gentle man with a soaring heart and quiet sense of humor, he will be missed by his faculty colleagues, his students, and the many writers who knew him.