SOAS University of London

Centre for the Study of Pakistan

The Beloved Witness: Celebrating Agha Shahid Ali

Agha Shahid Ali
Kamila Shamsie, Mirza Waheed and Nitasha Kaul

Date: 8 December 2011Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 8 December 2011Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: G51

Type of Event: Seminar

"Her grief, alive to this day, in her own roused the people into frenzied opposition to Moghul rule. And since then Kashmir has never been free."

About Agha Shahid Ali
Speaker Biographies

Agha Shahid Ali

Agha Shahid Ali February 4, 1949, New Delhi, India - 8 December 2001, Amherst, Massachusetts) was a Kashmiri American poet. His poetry 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 (finalist for the National Book Award, 2001). His last book was Call Me Ishmael Tonight, a collection of English ghazals. His poems are featured in American Alphabets: 25 Contemporary Poets (2006) and many other anthologies. 

In India, Agha Shahid Ali was educated at the University of Kashmir and the University of Delhi. In the United States of America, he earned a Ph.D. in English from Pennsylvania State University in 1984,and an M.F.A. from the University of Arizona in 1985. He held teaching positions at nine universities and colleges in India and the United States. 

Ali was also a translator of the Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (The Rebel's Silhouette; Selected Poems[3]), and was the editor for the Middle East and Central Asia segment of Jeffery Paine's Poetry of Our World.

Through his work with poetry teaching, and as the compiler of the volume Ravishing DisUnities: Real  Ghazals in English, he was widely credited for helping to popularize the ghazal form as a poetic genre in English today. 

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. The accalimed Pakistani writer Kamila Shamsie was his student. He died peacefully, in his sleep, of brain cancer in December, 2001. He was laid to rest in Northampton, Massachusetts. Amitav Ghosh, a renowned English author and Ali's close friend wrote about him after his death in 'The Ghat of the Only World'. 

The University of Utah Press awards the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize annually "in memory of a celebrated poet and beloved teacher". James Merrill, an American Poet, had a very significant impact on Agha Shahid Ali's poetry.

Being of Kashmiri ethnicity, Ali, in regards to Jammu and Kashmir and the Kashmir conflict, stated that "ideally the best solution would be absolute autonomy within the Indian Union in the broadest sense." However he went on to state that possibly, such a solution was probably no longer possible, given the actions of the Indian state in Kashmir and the fact that militant groups would never accept the 'autonomy' solution. Later he was a staunch supporter of Kashmir freedom struggle.He expressed his love and concern for his people in The county without A post office, written in the backdrop of the
Kashmir conflict.


Kamila Shamsie

Kamila Shamsie  is a Pakistani novelist who writes in the English language. She has a BA in Creative Writing from Hamilton College, and an MFA from the MFA Program for Poets & Writers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she was influenced by the Kashmiri American poet  Agha Shahid Ali. Kamila wrote her first novel, In The City By The Sea, while she was still at UMass, and it was published in 1998. It was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in the UK, and she received the Prime Minister's Award for Literature in Pakistan in 1999. Her second novel, Salt and Saffron, followed in 2000, after which she was selected as one of Orange's 21 Writers of the 21st century. Her third novel, Kartography, received widespread critical acclaim and was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys award in the UK. Both "Kartography" and her next novel, Broken Verses have won the Patras Bukhari Award from the Academy of Letters in Pakistan. Her fifth novel "Burnt Shadows" has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Her books have been translated in a number of languages.

Mirza Waheed

Mirza Waheed was born and brought up in Srinagar, Kashmir. He moved to Delhi when he was eighteen to study English Literature at the University of Delhi and worked as a journalist in the city for four years. He came to London in 2001 to join the BBC's Urdu Service, where he now works as an editor. Waheed attended the Arvon Foundation in 2007. His first novel, The Collaborator, was published to critical acclaim by Viking, Penguin in February 2011. It was longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize, shortlisted for the Shakti Bhat First Book Prize and is on the shortlist for the Guardian First Book Award.

Nitasha Kaul

Nitasha Kaul is a perpetually homeless Kashmiri novelist, academic, poet, economist, artist who inhabits many lives in the UK, Bhutan, India. She often finds herself speaking to, engaged with, writing and addressing, and part of, specific audiences who do not speak much to each other: economists, novelists, poets, economic social and political justice activists, theory-fetishists, musicians and filmmakers, Bhutan scholars, Kashmiris, street-artists, academic philosophers (to name a few).

Her first book was ‘Imagining Economics Otherwise’ (Routledge, 2007). Her debut novel ‘Residue’, about Kashmiris outside of Kashmir, was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize (sometimes called the 'Asian Booker') in 2009. She is an expert on the Himalayan history, politics, and contemporary culture of Bhutan, a country she has spent a long stretches of time over a period of several years. She  is currently based in London, and working on several projects, including her next novel.

All Welcome

Organiser: Co-hosted with the Centre for the Study of Pakistan and the Centre of South Asian Studies

Contact email:

Contact Tel: 020 7898 4893/2