|Mary Elizabeth Alexander Scroll
|Physical Stats & More
|The Bird’s Bright Ring (1976) (long poem)
|• In 2002, her book Illiterate Heart won the PEN Open Book Award.
• In 2009, she was honoured with Distinguished Achievement Award by the South
Asian Literary Association.
• In 2016, the Word Masala Foundation Honoured her with the Word Masala Award.
• In 1993, her memoir Fault Lines was chosen as one of the Best Books of 1993
by Publishers Weekly.
• In 2002, she was awarded the Imbongi Yesizwe Poetry International Award.
|Date of Birth
|17 February 1951 (Saturday)
|Date of Death
|21 November 2018
|Place of Death
|New York City, USA
|Age (at the time of death)
|Stomach Cancer citation
|• Khartoum University
|bachelor's degree in English and French citation
|Relationships & More
|Marital Status (at the time of death)
|David Lelyveld (Historian)
|Son- Adam Lelyveld
Daughter- Svati Lelyveld
|Father- George Alexander (meteorologist in the Indian government)
Mother- Mary Alexander (homemaker)
Sister- Elizabeth Alexander
Some Lesser Known Facts About Meena Alexander
- Meena Alexander (1951- 2018) was an Indian American Scholar and Poet. She was a renowned poet known for poems expressing emotions around dislocation and migration. She was a significant voice in contemporary poetry and postcolonial literature.
- Meena Alexander was born in Allahabad, India in a Syrian Christian family of Kerala, in 1951.
- Meena Alexander’s maternal grandfather, K. K. Kuruvilla, held a significant place in both her family history and India’s narrative. As a delegate representing the Mar Thoma Church at the International World Missionary Conference, Kuruvilla’s dedication extended beyond religious affairs into social causes and political activism
- She spent her fifth birthday on a ship from India to Sudan with her family to join her father who was posted there. After moving to Khartoum, Sudan she was home-schooled and during that time she was trained to speak and write in English. She finished high school exceptionally early, completing it by the age of 13. At the age of 13, she commenced her college education at Khartoum University.
- When she turned 15, she made the significant decision to change her name from Mary Elizabeth to Meena.
- By 1969, at the age of 18, she graduated with a degree. Shortly after turning 18, she moved to England to pursue her Ph.D. in British Romantic Literature at Nottingham University. Remarkably, by 1973, at a relatively young age, Meena Alexander completed her Ph.D. in English literature.
- Meena Alexander discovered her passion for writing poetry at a young age. Even during her time at Khartoum University, her poems were so impressive that they were translated into Arabic and published in a local newspaper. Her initial poetry collections found their way to publication through Writers Workshop in Calcutta, a press founded by P. Lal, who was a professor at St. Xavier’s College.
- During her time in India, Alexander published many works which were often compared with the political situations in India by other Indian Scholars. Indian writer Githa Hariharan talked about the connection between Meena’s work and Indian politics and said,
Nampally Road is the landscape Alexander’s young protagonist, Mira Kannadical, must negotiate on a quest that involves personal as well as political challenges, choices and discoveries. Nampally Road is also a place living through a particular time. The road is in Hyderabad, a city with its own distinctive history, physical and cultural feel, and hierarchies. The city’s present life is reflective of India in the grip of the seventies, a decade pinned to the collective Indian memory with the experience of the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi.”
- Alexander authored numerous poetry collections, essays, novels, and memoirs, including works like “Illiterate Heart,” “Fault Lines,” “Nampally Road,” and “The Shock of Arrival.” Her writing often drew from her experiences of moving between different cultures and continents. Her work often explored themes of identity, migration, displacement, and the intersection of cultures.
- Her poems were published in The New Yorker, Harvard Review, Kenyon Review, and Threepenny Review.
- Meena Alexander’s last poem, “In Praise of Fragments,” was published two years after her death in 2020.
- Meena returned to India in 1974, having completed her PhD at Nottingham University, and began working at Miranda House, University of Delhi, in the English Department. She began teaching English at the Central Institute of English at the University of Hyderabad in 1975, and she also taught French and English at Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1975. Following her relocation to New York, Alexander was hired as an assistant professor at Fordham University in 1980. She remained there until 1987, at which point she moved to Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY), where she worked as an assistant professor in the English Department until 1989 when she was promoted to associate professor. She also started teaching writing at Columbia University in 1990. In 1999, she was appointed Distinguished Professor of English at Hunter College.
- In 1979, Meena married Jewish-American historian David Lelyveld. While David was on sabbatical from the University of Minnesota, she met him at the Central Institute of English in Hyderabad, where she taught. Meena spent the majority of her life raising her children in New York City after she and her husband moved there after their marriage. Adam and Svati Lelyveld are Meena and David’s two children.
- Alexander’s poetry was adapted into music, including her poems Impossible Grace (2012) and Acqua Alta (2008). The City University of New York
- Meena Alexander held the Martha Walsh Pulver residency for a poet at Yaddo, a renowned artists’ community located in Saratoga Springs, New York.