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Contributor Spotlight on Matthew Shenoda

by Dan Froid

In “Christopher Columbus Was a Damn Blasted Liar,” Matthew Shenoda criticizes the parochialism of U.S. literary circles and discusses the problem of the narrative of “discovering” new writers, particularly writers of color. Read the article here. In his own work, the poet seems to attempt to push against some of the disappointing features of the literary landscape around him—for example, the “inability to see outside of one’s self, one’s own confines, geographies, institutions, regions, and nation.” Shenoda’s most recent work is Tahrir Suite, published by Northwestern University Press earlier this year. A book-length poem, Tahrir Suite follows a couple as they move from their home country of Egypt to the United States. It describes Egypt, a place not much discussed in contemporary poetry, and it examines the meaning of crossing borders and shifting one’s understanding of “home.”

Matthew Shenoda contributes uniquely to the Prairie Schooner community as a long-time friend and supporter, and recently, through his service on the Editorial Board for the African Poetry Book Fund, Prairie Schooner’s partner organization dedicated to promoting the poetic arts of Africa through book series, contests, workshops, festivals, and more.

Currently, Shenoda is associate professor and interim chair of the department of creative writing at Columbia College Chicago. He’s the author of three books of poetry: Somewhere Else (Coffee House Press, 2005) and Seasons of Lotus, Seasons of Bone (BOA Editions, 2009). “Donkey Carts and Desolation,” a poem from the latter collection, has been featured on poets.org:

Dilapidated clapboard shacks
piles of bricks in the sand
scratching at the surface of cohesion

Ingenuity is the notion of building
On a foundation made from loss

Out in these arid expanses
where the Red Sea meets the sand
people dream of progress
made from humility
and the laughter of others
multi-colored dross scatter across the earth
like foreign shrubbery

We converse in codes of motion
Language signaling daily headway

Advice for the long haul.

In February, Shenoda spoke with Editor-in-Chief Kwame Dawes about Shenoda’s poetry, his identity as an Egyptian-American, and the poetry of the African diaspora. Listen to it here. For more of his work in prose, read his contribution to the 2014 MFA Survey on Publisher’s Weekly: “Why I Teach Writing.” And stay tuned for the APBF’s forthcoming chapbook box-set, Eight New Generation African Poets, in which Shenoda introduces two of those new voices. For more on his recent and upcoming appearances, check out both his website and his Twitter account, @matthewshenoda.

Are you a Prairie Schooner contributor? Contact pspublicity@unl.edu to let us know about your recent successes and events, and we’ll share your good news in a future “Contributor Spotlight” post!