Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Agha Shahid Ali was born into a very highly educated, multilingual, and liberal Muslim family. In his introduction to The Rebel’s Silhouette, he recounts how his paternal grandmother quoted John Milton, William Shakespeare, John Keats, and Thomas Hardy in English; Hafiz and Jall al-Dn Rm in Persian; Faiz in Urdu; and Habba Khatun, Mahjoor, and Zinda Kaul in Kashmiri. While he was growing up, his immediate family lived in New Delhi, India; Srinagar, Kashmir; and Muncie, Indiana, where his parents (Agha Ashraf Ali and Sufia Agha Ashraf Ali) both completed their doctorates in 1964. English, Urdu, and Kashmiri were all spoken in his home. Ali considered English to be his first language (it was the only language in which he wrote) and Urdu to be his mother tongue.
As a child, Ali was educated in Roman Catholic schools, but he attended an American high school while his parents were in graduate school. Ali earned several degrees: a B.A. from the University of Kashmir (1968), an M.A. from the University of Delhi (1970), an M.A. (1981) and a Ph.D. (1984) from Pennsylvania State University, and an M.F.A. from the University of Arizona (1985).
Ali lectured at the University of Delhi from 1970 to 1975 before moving to the United States to teach, study, and write. At Pennsylvania State University, he served as an instructor from 1976 to 1983, and at the University of Arizona, he worked as a graduate assistant from 1983 to 1985. Ali became the...
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Born February 4, 1949, in New Delhi, India, Agha Shahid Ali was raised in Kashmir in a sophisticated, enlightened, and culturally rich Muslim household. His father, Agha Ashraf Ali, was a well-known educator in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir. Ali, who grew up speaking Urdu, Kashmiri, and English, attended an Irish Catholic school in Kashmir and later earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Kashmir, in Srinagar. He took his master’s degree in English from the University of Delhi and, after immigrating to the United States in 1976, took a Ph.D. in English from Pennsylvania State University in 1984. In 1985, he received a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona.
Ali wrote his first poem, in English, at the age of twelve, though he claims Urdu as his mother tongue. Because the British colonized India, he considers English a South Asian language. While in India, Ali sent out poems regularly to American publications, which regularly rejected them. His breakthrough in poetry came in 1991 with the publication of A Nostalgist’s Map of America, which critics hailed for its lyric imagery and haunting voice. Exile, longing, and a global perspective inform much of Ali’s poetry, and the poet’s sense of both loss and belonging is abundantly evident in his collection The Country Without a Post Office (1997), which portrays the conflict between Muslim Indian militants and the Indian government over...
(The entire section is 403 words.)