Born and raised in Kashmir, Agha Shahid Ali (1949–2001) came to the United States in the mid-1970s to pursue graduate study in literature; by the mid-1980s, he had begun to establish himself as one of the most important American poets of the late 20th century. Mad Heart Be Brave: On the Poetry of Agha Shahid Ali is the first comprehensive examination of all stages of his career, from his earliest work published in India but never reissued in the U.S., through his seven poetry volumes from American publishers, ultimately collected as The Veiled Suite. Contributors to this volume include Sejal Shah, Rita Banerjee, Amanda Golden, Ravi Shankar, Abin Chakraborty, Amy Newman, Christopher Merrill, Jason Schneiderman, Stephen Burt, Raza Ali Hassan, Syed Humayoun, Feroz Rather, Dur e Aziz Amna, Mihaela Moscaliuc, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Mahwash Shoaib, Shadab Zeest Hashmi, Grace Schulman, and Ada Limón. Mad Heart Be Brave closes with a long biographical sketch and elegy by Agha Shahid Ali’s friend Amitav Ghosh and a comprehensive bibliography assembled by scholar Patricia O’Neill with Reid Larson.
In her essay, “Between Postindependence and the Cold War: Agha Shahid Ali’s Publications with the Calcutta Writers Workshop,” Rita Banerjee writes: “In 1958, editor, critic, translator, and poet P. Lal established the English-language creative writing group the Writers Workshop in Kolkata. The Writers Workshop helped launch the careers of many well-known English-language South Asian authors, such as Anita Desai, Bharati Mukherjee, Vikram Seth, A. K. Ramanujan, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, and Agha Shahid Ali. As an editor, P. Lal was a key figure in establishing the relevance and necessity of Anglophone South Asian writing in the postindependence period. His seminal work, Modern Indian Poetry in English: The Writers Workshop Selection, an Anthology & a Credo (1969) served as a manifesto for the function and viability of Indian English literature in the postindependence period and featured one of Agha Shahid Ali’s most dystopian and memorable poems, “Lunarscape.” In the poem Ali not only critiqued the rivalry between the United States and the USSR during the Cold War but also presented the recent American moon landing as a neocolonial and self-destructive move. After the publication of “Lunarscape,” Agha Shahid Ali went on to publish his first and second collections of poems, Bone-Sculpture (1972) and In Memory of Begum Akhtar (1979) with P. Lal’s Writers Workshop. Ali’s first collection, Bone-Sculpture, featured several poems that reflected his response to the postindependence and postpartition realities of South Asia, his own conflicted feelings over his divided home state of Kashmir, and poems that responded to the Cold War, cultural revolutions, and other global political events of the time and captured Ali’s own experiences of immigration…” To read the full essay, please order Mad Heart Be Brave: On the Poetry of Agha Shahid Ali from the University of Michigan Press here.