Agha Shahid Ali

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Agha Shahid Ali
Born(1949-02-04)4 February 1949
Died8 December 2001(2001-12-08) (aged 52)
Resting placeAmherst, Massachusetts
Alma materUniversity of Kashmir Hindu College, University of Delhi Pennsylvania State University (PhD) and University of Arizona (MFA)
OccupationPoet, Professor
Known forNational Book Award 2001, Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts, US & Canada
Notable credit(s)
The Country Without a Post Office, Rooms Are Never Finished and The Rebel's Silhouette
RelativesAgha Ashraf Ali (Father)
Prof. Agha Iqbal Ali (brother)
Prof. Hena Ahmad , Prof. Sameetah Agha (Sisters) Agha Shaukat Ali (Uncle) Begum Zaffar Ali (Grandmother)

Agha Shahid Ali (4 February 1949 – 8 December 2001) was a Kashmiri-American[a] poet.[2][3][4] His collections include A Walk Through the Yellow Pages, The Half-Inch Himalayas, A Nostalgist's Map of America, The Country Without a Post Office, Rooms Are Never Finished, the latter a finalist for the National Book Award in 2001.

The University of Utah Press awards the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize annually "in memory of a celebrated poet and beloved teacher."[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Agha Shahid Ali was born in the illustrious and highly educated Agha family of Srinagar, Kashmir.[6][7] He was raised in Kashmir but left for the United States in 1976.[8] Shahid's father Agha Ashraf Ali was a renowned educationist of Jammu and Kashmir. Shahid's grandmother Begum Zaffar Ali, an educationist, was the first woman matriculate of Kashmir.[9] Shahid was educated at the Burn Hall School, later University of Kashmir and the Hindu College, University of Delhi.[2] He earned a PhD in English from Pennsylvania State University in 1984, and an M.F.A. from the University of Arizona in 1985.[2] He held teaching positions at nine universities and colleges in India and the United States.[2]

Shahid's upbringing was absolutely secular. He loved the painting of St Veronica's Handkerchief, that Zakir Hussain had gifted to his father, Agha Ashraf Ali. In fact, the first poem that he had written was at the age of 12 about Christ. Shahid, and his brother Iqbal, both studied at an Irish Catholic school and in an interview, he recalled that: "There was never a hint of any kind of parochialism in the home."[10]

Literary work[edit]

Ali expressed his love and concern for his people in In Memory of Begum Akhtar and The Country Without a Post Office, which was written with the Kashmir conflict as backdrop.[9] He was a translator of the Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (The Rebel's Silhouette; Selected Poems),[11] and the editor for the Middle East and Central Asia segment of Jeffery Paine's Poetry of Our World.[12] He further compiled the volume Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English. His last book was Call Me Ishmael Tonight, a collection of English ghazals, and his poems are featured in American Alphabets: 25 Contemporary Poets (2006) and other anthologies.

Ali taught at the MFA Program for Poets & Writers at University of Massachusetts Amherst, at the MFA Writing Seminars at Bennington College as well as at creative writing programs at University of Utah, Baruch College, Warren Wilson College, Hamilton College and New York University. He died of brain cancer in December 2001 and was buried in Northampton, in the vicinity of Amherst, a town sacred to his beloved poet Emily Dickinson.


This list represents the published output of Ali, arranged in chronological order and sorted by the manner in which he contributed to the work in question.


  • Bone Sculpture (1972),
  • In Memory of Begum Akhtar and Other Poems (1979),
  • The Half-Inch Himalayas (1987),
  • A Walk Through the Yellow Pages (1987),
  • A Nostalgist's Map of America (1991),
  • The Beloved Witness: Selected Poems (1992),
  • The Country Without a Post Office (1997),
  • Rooms Are Never Finished (2001),
  • Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals (2003).

Translations and edited volumes[edit]

  • Translator, The Rebel's Silhouette: Selected Poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1992),
  • Editor, Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English (2000).[13]


Ali was deeply moved by the music of Begum Akhtar. Several niches in his apartment had photos of the people who had deeply influenced his work - Akhtar's photo occupied one of these spaces. The two had met through a friend of Akhtar's when Ali was a teenager and her music became a lasting presence in his life. Features of her ghazal rendition—such as wit, wordplay and nakhra (affectation)—were present in Ali's poetry as well. However, Amitav Ghosh suspects that the strongest connection between the two rose from the idea that "sorrow has no finer mask than a studied lightness of manner"—traces of which were seen in Ali's and Akhtar's demeanor in their respective lives.[14][15]



  1. ^ During an interview Ali said that all these designations would be true: "Kashmiri-American poet, Indian-American poet, South Asian-American poet, Muslim-American."[1]


  1. ^ Benvenuto, Christine (2002). "Agha Shahid Ali". The Massachusetts Review. 43 (2): 261–273. ISSN 0025-4878. JSTOR 25091852.
  2. ^ a b c d "A Tribute to Agha Shahid Ali". Jacket Magazine. Retrieved 2 January 2010.
  3. ^ An interethnic companion to Asian American literature. Cambridge University Press. 1997. ISBN 9780521447904. Retrieved 2 January 2010. Contemporary South Asian American writers belong primarily to this middle and upper class: Kashmiri-American Agha Shahid Ali, Meena Alexander, Bharati Mukherjee, Vikram Seth, Pakistani American Sara Suleria, Javaid Qazi, Indo-Canadian Rohinton Mistry, Uma Parameswaran, Sri Lankan Canadian Michael Ondaatje, and Indo-Guyanese Canadian Cyril Dabydeen, among others.
  4. ^ Manan Kapoor, Sahapedia. "How the legendary Begum Akhtar influenced the life and poetry of Agha Shahid Ali". Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  5. ^ "Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize". Retrieved 18 January 2015.
  6. ^ "Kandahar's Qizilbash". 30 November 2017.
  7. ^ "Agha Family of Srinagar Kashmir".
  8. ^ Sarah Wetzel-Fishman (10 June 2009). "The veiled suite, the collected poems by agha shahid ali". Rattle.
  9. ^ a b "'The Ghat of the Only World': Agha Shahid Ali in Brooklyn". Outlook. Retrieved 2 January 2010.
  10. ^ "'I Write on that Void: Kashmir, Kaschmir, Cashmere, Qashmir' – Remembering Agha Shahid Ali".
  11. ^ Book Excerptise:Rebel's Silhouette (extended extracts and literary history)
  12. ^ Poetry of Our World (excerpts)
  13. ^ Parveen, Rasheda (2014). "Agha Shahid Ali's English Ghazals and the Transnational Politics of Literary Subversion" (PDF). The Challenge. 23 (1).
  14. ^ Ghosh, Amitav. "The Ghat of The Only World". Amitav Ghosh.
  15. ^ "How the legendary Begum Akhtar influenced the life and poetry of Agha Shahid Ali".
  16. ^ a b c d Poets, Academy of American. "About Agha Shahid Ali | Academy of American Poets". Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  17. ^ "John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation - Fellows". 22 June 2011. Archived from the original on 22 June 2011. Retrieved 4 December 2019.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]