Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

A Poet’s Prize

The American Academy of Poets hails Khaled Mattawa

September 17, 2010 The Academy of American Poets announced this week that Khaled Mattawa, a graduate of the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, has been awarded the 2010 Academy Fellowship. Awarded once a year “for distinguished poetic achievement,” the fellowship carries a stipend of $25,000.

According to Academy Chancellor Marilyn Hacker, “Khaled Mattawa is one of the most original, lyrical and intellectually challenging American poets of his generation. Toqueville is a book that is as daring in its amalgam of poetic techniques as it is dazzling and pertinent in the breadth of its subject-matter, while Amoriscos expands possibilities of the lyric in English with its historical and cultural reach. He is also one of the best translators of contemporary poetry working today, from Arabic or indeed any language—creating viable, memorable poems in the receptor language.”

When Mattawa emigrated to the U.S. from Libya, where he spoke Arabic, he had little reason to believe he would become an award-winning poet in English. He earned bachelor’s degrees in both economics and political science at UTC, though he also took creative-writing classes there: “My first two poetry writing workshops were with Richard Jackson at UTC, who was a wonderful influence,” Mattawa told Chapter 16 in an email. “Also, the Meacham workshops [there] were as good as any graduate program I could have gone to. I had a chance to workshop with Edward Hirsch and Christopher Buckley and to have conferences with Mark Jarman, Carol Frost, and the late Jim Simmerman. Having Philip Levine come to a party at my apartment and twisting his arm to look at a poem that he did not think was good enough to workshop was a moral victory for me.”

Later, at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Mattawa studied with poets Art Smith and Marilyn Kallet . “In my undergrad classes, Khaled distinguished himself by his bravery in his writing,” says Kallet. “I mean that he tackled difficult topics and wrote about them with subtlety and lyricism.”

“He already knew what he was about when he was a student for me,” says Smith. “Thank heavens I didn’t get in his way while he was on his way to becoming a terrific poet.”

Mattawa, who now serves on the graduate faculty at the University of Michigan, returned to Tennessee last year to give a reading. “I’m delighted that Tennessee, where I started writing, is tuned in to me,” he says. “One of my happiest moments was visiting with the UTK group. Art Smith, who is a fine, fine poet, was generous and kind beyond description. His students were also great fun to be with. I enjoyed connecting with Marilyn Kallet as well.”

Mattawa’s prior honors include a Guggenheim fellowship, a translation grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Alfred Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, the PEN American Center Poetry Translation Prize, and three Pushcart Prizes. Listen to an interview with Mattawa here and read some of his poems here.

For more updates on Tennessee authors, please visit Chapter 16‘s News & Notes page, here.