Associate Professor Emeritus of English
Throughout his life, Saadi Simawe has built bridges between cultures, between peoples, between ways of knowing, and between disciplines. He joined Grinnell’s English Department in 1992, and received tenure in 2000. His journey here was a long one, taking him from his home in Baghdad to Libya, to Nebraska, and finally to Iowa.
His scholarship bridged cultures; he specialized in African-American literature in the constructions and expressions of blackness in Arabic literature. He introduced in his African-American courses elements from Arabic and Islamic literature that reveal comparable attitudes toward blackness and attempt to justify enslaving individuals in both medieval Arab and modern American societies. Grinnell honored him with a Rosenbloom Award for Interdisciplinary Study of the Arts in 1999. He has published Black Orpheus: Music in African American Fiction from Harlem Renaissance to Toni Morrison and has also published many articles about Arabic literature.
From 1994 to 1998, he was director of the Grinnell Writers’ Conference, inviting many prominent writers to read their works on campus and to hold workshops, teach minicourses, and serve as judges for students’ poetry and fiction competitions. He convened a Race and Ethnicity Reading Group of faculty members and helped plan a number of symposia at the College.
He 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, as well as teaching and presenting his work in other locations. He convened a bridging project between the College and the University of Iowa on “The Mask in Literature, Culture, and the Arts.” He was named an honorary fellow of the University of Iowa International Writing Program in 1989 and continues to serve as an advisory board member and participant in the program’s activities.
He is an active translator between Arabic and English, including Arabic versions of poems by Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, and he writes fiction in his native Arabic. His first novel, whose English title is Out of the Lamp, was published in 1999; he is working on a second novel, as well as a bilingual memoir of letters, creative writing, and translation.