AGHA SHAHID ALI (1949-2001), Kashmiri American

Agha Shahid Ali was born in New Delhi, on February 4, 1949. Raised in a prominent Muslim family in Srinagar, Kashmir, he earned his degrees in English literature at the University of Kashmir, Srinagar and the University of Delhi, before completing a Ph.D. in English from Pennsylvania State University and an M.F.A. from the University of Arizona.

Ali was the recipient of many prestigious fellowships and awards including ones from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He was also awarded a Pushcart Prize. Ali’s book of poems, Rooms Are Never Finished, was a national book award finalist.

Ali lived in Massachusetts and Brooklyn, New York, but taught at various educational institutions across the U.S., most notably the University of Utah, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Hamilton College, New York University, Princeton College and the MFA program at Warren Wilson College.

Agha Shahid Ali succumbed to brain cancer on December 8, 2001. He was 52 years old.

In honor of his life and work, the Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry, sponsored by The University of Utah Press and The University of Utah Department of English, is awarded annually.  

Agha Shahid Ali wrote poetry in both free verse and traditional forms, experimenting with verse forms such as the sestina and canzone. He is credited with introducing and popularizing the Ghazal form in American poetry. Ali’s poetry is autobiographical with allusions to exile and Ali’s identity as a Kashmiri. His work melds the landscapes of Kashmir and America, along with the conflicted emotions of exile, immigration and in his later works, loss, illness and mortality. Ali’s voice is lyrical, reflective and at the same time elegant, enhanced by the repetition of words, half rhymes and culturally specific imagery. As one navigates the complex terrain of his poems, they get a sense of Ali’s intricacy in language and thought, his ability to take emotions and frame them into focus, giving his poems an embroidered* ornateness.


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

The Rebel’s Silhouette: Selected Poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1992)

Editor, Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English (2000)
T. S. Eliot as Editor (1986)


Even the Rain
I See Chile in My Rearview Mirror
The Wolf’s Postscript to ‘Little Red Riding Hood.’

The Kashmir Wallah, 1997
Poets & Writers, 2002

Snowmen, an animated video

The Ghat of the Only World-Amitav Ghosh
I swear, I have my hopes: Agha Shahid Ali’s Delhi Years

Sources: Wikipediapoets.orgThe Poetry Foundation  and Google Search.

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