Passage to Manhattan: Critical Essays on Meena Alexander
Editor: Lopamudra Basu and Cynthia Leenerts
Date Of Publication: Sep 2009
Passage to Manhattan: Critical Essays on Meena Alexander is a unique compendium of scholarship on South Asian American writer Meena Alexander, who is recognized as one of the most influential and innovative contemporary South Asian American poets. Her poetry, memoirs, and fiction occupy a unique locus at the intersection of postcolonial and US multicultural studies. This anthology examines the importance of her contribution to both fields. It is the first sustained analysis of the entire Alexander oeuvre, employing a diverse array of critical methodologies. Drawing on feminist, Marxist, cultural studies, trauma studies, contemporary poetics, phenomenology, and psychoanalysis, the collection features fifteen chapters and an Afterword, by well-established scholars of postcolonial and Asian American literature like Roshni Rustomji, May Joseph, Anindyo Roy, and Amritjit Singh, as well as by emerging scholars like Ronaldo Wilson, Parvinder Mehta, and Kazim Ali.
The contributors offer insights on nearly all of Alexander’s major works, and the volume achieves a balance between Alexander’s diverse genres, covering the spectrum from early works like Nampally Road to her forthcoming book The Poetics of Dislocation. The essays engage with a variety of debates in postcolonial, feminist, and US multicultural studies, as well as providing many nuanced and detailed readings of Alexander’s mutli-layered texts.
Lopamudra Basu (PhD, Graduate Center, City University of New York, 2004) has been an Assistant Professor of English at University of Wisconsin-Stout since 2005. Her current research interests include contemporary world literature, transnational feminist theory, US ethnic literatures, and globalization studies. Her recent publications include “Mourning and Motherhood: Transforming Loss in Representations of Adivasi Mothers in Mahasweta Devi’s Short Stories” in Rites of Passage in Postcolonial Women’s Writing (New York and Amsterdam: Rodopi Press, 2009); “The Repetition of Silence: Partition, Rape and Female Labor in Bapsi Sidhwa’s Cracking India,” South Asian Review 28.2 (2007, 5–26); and “Crossing Cultures/Crossing Genres: The Reinvention of the Graphic Memoir in Persepolis and Persepolis 2,” Nebula: A Journal of Multidisciplinary Scholarship 4.3 (September 2007, 1–19). She has been invited to co-edit a special topic issue of the electronic journal Politics and Culture focusing on the Global South in 2009.
Cynthia Ann Leenerts (PhD, George Washington University, 1997) has served as an Assistant Professor of English at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania since 2005. Specializing in Indian, South African, and Black British literatures, she teaches postcolonial literature, Victorian and modern British literatures, literary criticism and theory, the graphic novel, and a variety of general-education literature and writing courses. With George Bozzini, she edited the anthology Literature Without Borders: International Literature in English for Student Writers (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2001) and published “Rabindranath Tagore’s and Satyajit Ray’s ‘New Woman’: Writing and Rewriting Bimala” in Patrick Colm Hogan and Lalita Pandit’s Rabindranath Tagore: Universality and Tradition (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003). Among other venues, she has also published in The Literary Criterion, the Committee on South Asian Women’s Bulletin, and the South Asian Review, where she now serves as Managing Editor.
“In broad terms, the book Passage to Manhattan: Critical Essays on Meena Alexander edited by Lopamudra Basu and Cynthia Leenerts is welcome and long overdue. While much has been written about postcolonial theory and theorists, as well as fiction writers, the output in critical scholarship on postcolonial poetry and poets, especially from South Asia, has been distressingly thin. In this respect alone, this is a ‘project of illumination’ and deserves a careful consideration as it focuses on postcolonial South Asian poetry in English, but also straddles women’s and cultural studies, as well as literary theory. Summing up, the value of project lies, first, in that it fills a lacuna in Postcolonial Studies: a definitive examination of the poetry of Meena Alexander, one of the most original and compelling voices in postcolonial south Asian writing in English. Second, the book, with its judicious and carefully balanced mix of interviews, critical essays and commentaries, locates the postcolonial poetry of Alexander as enmeshed in an interconnected network of contact zones, which Mary Louise Pratt sees as invoking the spatial and temporal co-presence of people and cultures previously separated by geographical and historical disjunctures, but whose personal, cultural, and creative trajectories now come together or intersect.”
– Gautam Kundu, Professor of English, Georgia Southern University
“It is well past time for an anthology of critical writings on the poetry, fiction, and memoirs of Meena Alexander (1951–), and the 15 essays gathered here successfully offer balanced readings from feminist, Marxist, phenomenological, and cultural studies points of view that situate her notably on the ‘fault lines’ between postcolonial, ethnic American, and women’s studies. Following Jahan Ramazani’s suggestion in The Hybrid Muse (2001), Basu and Leenerts seek to broaden the treatment of poetry in postcolonial studies, and with Amritjit Singh and Peter Schmidt (Postcolonial Theory and the United States, 2000) they demonstrate that US ethnic studies pointedly intersect postcolonial work in writers like Alexander. Here is a writer who draws inspiration equally from Gloria Anzaldúa, Rumi, Akka Mahadevi, and Edouard Glissant: an exponent of cultural decolonization, the aesthetics of hybridity, and the task of expanding the notion of genre.”
– John C. Hawley, Professor and Chair of English, Santa Clara University
“This richly textured collection fully honors Meena Alexander, a writer of breath-taking complexity – poet, novelist, memoirist, essayist. Her aesthetic draws inspiration from multiple sources including South Asian poets and philosophers, English Romanticists, feminists, postcolonial and anti-racist theorists; her language foregrounds the female body as the landscape of struggle and memory. The contributors illuminate superbly the craft and ethics of Alexander’s poetic, fluid, and genre-shifting polyvocal articulations, calling attention to their transformative value in a time of violence. Willingly, we invest in the histories and conflicts of the diverse places and peoples that populate Alexander’s vast consciousness, which moves relentlessly across India, North Africa, England, and the United States.”
– Rajini Srikanth, Associate Professor of English, University of Massachusetts, Boston
“This excellent collection of essays and interviews analyzes the transnational feminist poetry, memoirs, fiction and philosophy of the South Asian American writer Meena Alexander. A single volume brings together the varied production of a cosmopolitan ‘woman cracked by multiple migrations,’ a writer whose oeuvre is situated at the intersection of postcolonial, ethnic American, and women’s studies. The contributors effectively chart the intellectual biography of an important poet philosopher activist who has constructed her writings as a home where all the different countries and languages that make up who she is are brought together and lived simultaneously and harmoniously.”
– Miriam Cooke, Professor of Arab Cultures, Duke University; Author of Dissident Syria: Making Oppositional Arts Official
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