Ammiel Alcalay

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Ammiel Alcalay (born 1956) is an American poet, scholar, critic, translator, and prose stylist. Born and raised in Boston, he is a first-generation American, son of Sephardic Jews from São Tomé and Príncipe. His work often examines how poetry and politics affect the way we see ourselves and the way Americans think about the Middle East.

Brief overview[edit]

Alcalay is perhaps best known as a Middle Eastern scholar and university instructor. During the war in former Yugoslavia he was a primary source for providing access in the American media to Bosnian voices. He was responsible for publication of the first survivor's account in English from a victim held in a Serb concentration camp, The Tenth Circle of Hell by Rezak Hukanović (Basic Books, 1996), which he co-translated and edited.[1]

"Over the past fifteen years," writes Alcalay, "I have focused primarily on Hebrew and Jewish literature of the Middle East, in its Islamic, Levantine Arabic, and Israeli contexts. My work on Bosnia during the war in former Yugoslavia has entailed similar efforts at creating the cultural space for unfamiliar works to emerge. Throughout, my work as poet and prose-writer remains a crucial reference point, representing a kind of standard in form and content that I insist my other writing (and translation) adheres to." [2]

As a university instructor, Prof. Alcalay has taught Sephardic Literature (both Hebrew and in-translation), and a variety of courses on Middle Eastern and Mediterranean literacy and intellectual culture and its contemporary and modern reception, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as creative writing. A comparatist by training, he specializes in these topics and in Balkan literatures and history, poetics, and theories of translation; he publishes translations of Hebrew and Bosnian, as well as his own poetry.[3]

Alcalay's poetry, prose, reviews, critical articles and translations have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, Time Magazine, The New Republic, The Village Voice, The Jerusalem Post, Grand Street, Conjunctions, Sulfur, The Nation, Middle East Report, Afterimage, Parnassus, City Lights Review, Review of Jewish Social Studies, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, The Michigan Quarterly, Caliban, Paper Air, Paintbrush, Mediterraneans, and various other publications.[2]

He is currently a professor in the English Department at CUNY Graduate Center.

Selected writings[edit]

  • Poetry, Politics & Translation: American Isolation and the Middle East (Palm Press, 2003) Based on a talk sponsored by the Cornell Forum for Justice and Peace in the series Critical Perspectives on the War on Terror
  • from the warring factions (Beyond Baroque, 2002), a book-length poem dedicated to the Bosnian town of Srebrenica
  • Memories of Our Future: Selected Essays, 1982-1999 (City Lights, 1999)
  • After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture (University of Minnesota Press, 1993) Chosen as one of the year's top 25 books by The Village Voice and named one of 1993's notable books by The Independent in London
  • the cairo notebooks (Singing Horse Press, 1993) some of the earlier published poems
  • Islanders (City Lights Publishers, 2010) ISBN 978-0-87286-506-8
  • neither wit nor gold (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011) ISBN 978-1-933254-84-5


  • Nine Alexandrias by Semezdin Mehmedinović, translated from Bosnian (City Lights, 2003)
  • Sarajevo Blues by the Bosnian poet Semezdin Mehmedinović (City Lights, 1998)
  • Keys to the Garden: New Israeli Writing (City Lights, 1996)
  • Portraits of Sarajevo (Fromm, 1995) and Sarajevo: A War Journal (Henry Holt, 1994), by Zlatko Dizdarević – Alcalay edited and co-translated

Forthcoming publications[edit]

  • Politics and Imagination (book of essays).
  • Outcast, a novel by Shimon Ballas, translated from Hebrew (City Lights Press).


  1. ^ Big Bridge, Issue 3
  2. ^ a b Small Press Traffic
  3. ^ Faculty Page, Queens College, CUNY

External links[edit]