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AliKazim Ali


Department of Literature

Mohammad Kazim Ali received his MFA in creative writing from New York University in 2001. He was associate professor of creative writing and comparative literature at Oberlin College prior to his appointment at UC San Diego.

Ali is the author of nearly 20 books of poetry, prose and cross-genre work. He has edited several collections and published translations of books by Marguerite Duras, Sohrab Sepehri and Mahmoud Chokrollahi. He is the founder and continues to work as an editor of the independent press Nightboat Books.

Ali joins the Department of Literature to focus on transnational prose and poetics. Besides creative writing, translation theory and practice, and publishing, his pedagogical, research and creative interests include interdisciplinary approaches to poetry, performance and movement, border studies, and the intersections of these.

His current work focuses on creative and kinesthetic responses to colonial architectural-engineering interventions, most particularly in the northern Manitoban Indigenous community of Pimicikamak and in the West Bank territory of Palestine. Ali will teach undergraduate and graduate courses in creative writing and cross-disciplinary approaches to the creative process.

What excites you most about coming to UC San Diego?

As a creative artist and scholar who works in multiple disciplines and modalities, I really do feel that there is no other department like the UC San Diego Department of Literature, which includes a wide range of theoretical approaches and privileges the “creative” as much as the “critical,” as well as supports and encourages work that draws from both sources of inquiry.

Why did you choose your field of study?

I imagine it chose me. As soon as I could use language, I began making shapes with it. I never stopped. The body of a human is an instrument to make sound and thought. Poetry feels more like a subset of architecture or sculpture or dance than anything else, and certainly like dance and architecture, it was likely one of the original human expressions of creativity. I suppose I listened, and when I listened, I heard, and when I heard I spoke it out loud and when I spoke it out loud, I wrote it down.

What advice do you have for students who choose to major in arts and humanities?

The planet is a dangerous place at the moment. There are thousands of years of decisions that have brought us to this fraught moment and yet solutions are within our ken and our grasp. It takes a brave person to dream and I do not believe that the future of our life on this planet will be enabled solely by technological achievement nor medical development; I believe that the future polity will need to dream again the goal and the role of the human in the matrix of existence.

That is the province or artists and philosophers and scholars. As in the classical era and then in the golden age of Islamic Spain, these people will not be working separately from scientists and physicians and mathematicians — rather they will be thinking alongside them; in fact many are the same thinkers themselves.

As I heard a physician-poet remark once, “Who would want to be treated by a doctor who had not read “Gilgamesh?” Who would want to hire an attorney who had not studied “The Merchant of Venice?” They are fair questions.

How do you view your role relative to the greater regional community?

I’m thrilled to come to this amazing city in the bordlerlands/la frontera — a space that is not national space but always already transnational space: Kumeyaay, Mexican, America, Asian, international, transnational.

It is also a vibrant literary town, full of publishers, dynamic literary organizations, reading series galore, and writers and artists committed to social and political justice. I am excited to be a part of the landscape here along with my colleagues in the city and at the other educational institutions in the region.

Tell us something about yourself that is not normally mentioned in your bio.

Of various art forms I love: to listen to Cesar Franck’s “Symphony in D,” in dance I choose butoh, in painting I look at Makoto Fujimura, Agnes Martin and Hans Hofmann. I wonder what sound snow makes when it falls.