An interview with Waqas Khwaja

Waqas Khwaja, Associate Professor of English, Agnes Scott College, has a Ph.D. from Emory University in Victorian fiction and teaches 19th century British literature, Romantic prose and poetry, and Postcolonial literature apart from courses in poetry writing.

He has published three collections of original poetry, No One Waits for the Train (2007), Six Geese From a Tomb at Medum (1987) and Mariam’s Lament (1992), a literary travelogue about his experiences with the International Writing Programme at the University of Iowa, Writers and Landscapes (1988), and three edited anthologies of Pakistani literature which also contain his translations from Urdu and Punjabi. A fourth anthology, Modern Poetry of Pakistan, is slated for publication in September 2009. He was a practicing lawyer and newspaper columnist in Pakistan before relocating to the United States in 1994.

What have you recently published? What are you working on now?

My last book of poems, No One Waits For the Train, came out in 2007. The reviews are still coming in. At least two universities have adopted it for their courses.

A couple of weeks ago I finished the manuscript of Modern Poetry of Pakistan, an anthology of 140 poems from Pakistan’s indigenous languages in new English translations, for which I am the translation editor. Forty-two  Pakistani poets are represented in this anthology including Allama Iqbal, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Ahmad Faraz, Kishwar Naheed, Fehmida Riaz — covering all the major language traditions, Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi, Seraiki, and Kashmiri. A project of the National Endowment of the Arts, this is the first work of its kind in the United States and will be published by Eastern Washington University Press in September this year. Launch ceremonies are planned for various US cities starting with Washington, DC, in October 2009.

I am also guest-editing a special issue of the Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Literature on Pakistan. Projected for publication in the spring of next year, it will contain a dozen scholarly articles on Pakistani writings and a review section covering major Pakistani publications in English over the last five years. In addition, I am working on two research articles of my own, one on Oriental(ist) influences on the British Romantics, specifically, with reference to William Jones’ work in India, and the other on the use of female voice in poetry by male writers within Muslim literary cultures of South Asia.

What are your writing habits? Your work style? Work impediments?

Since I am a tenured professor at a liberal arts college, my days are pretty much dedicated to teaching, preparation for classes, grading, conferences with students, and committee work. I am obliged to find time for my writing and scholarship in the night. Most nights I am up working late, occasionally till 4 am. My work on conference papers is also mostly done during the night. Now I don’t pretend that I work all the time. It’s just that when I am working on a project, I may vanish from the scene for a few weeks, or months, depending on the nature of the work. My library is my asylum, my inviolable sanctuary. There I am immersed in the world of books so completely that I have no consciousness of what exists outside.

Impediments? None, except my own laziness, my own incurable procrastinations.

Share your experience with the publishing world (Pakistani, Indian, beyond).

I revere my Pakistani publishers, Sang-e-Meel — a family concern started by Niaz Ahmad close to 50 years ago, they are pioneers in the field of literary publications in Pakistan and have done extraordinary service in the cause of both academic and literary publishing. They could be even better were they to put into place a network of qualified outside readers and professional editorial services (OUP at home is an example to follow) but they are committed to their work and are bound to continue their success story.

The American publishers are overloaded with submissions, and their turnover time is much longer, but I do appreciate the support services they offer — outside review, editorial advice, professional designing and layout, promotion of the work.

Though my experience with one significant publishing house was less than satisfactory, to the point where the contract was allowed to lapse, working with Eastern Washington University Press has been a pleasure, and this, in large measure, is due to the patience, sagacity, and genuine goodness of its Director Ivar Nelson.

My dealings with Alhambra Publishers have been no less a source of satisfaction and pleasure, and Shafiq Naz, who runs the concern in Belgium, needs to be congratulated on the wonderful line of literary books and poetry calendars he produces year after year as a small, independently-run publishing house. An anthology of Pakistani literature that I published with Sang-e-Meel in 1988 was issued in India by UPBS under license. They did a good job with it, and though it remained in circulation for a few years, I have never seen a cent from them.
Silences
Downriver drifting
water purls
breaks into a song.
Through reeds wind rushes
scraping peeled stalkskin
races through grass tall as itself.
Then wind drops
and water’s siltsheet stretches without a ripple.
Sun burns with slow heat.
Sandbars glass, wrinkle, and flake.
Gnats circle from reed to reed.
Blue-nosed flies sizzle with excitement
all day, pursue excrement and light food.
A long-billed bird chuckles to itself
in hiccupping private amusement.
Sudden swoosh of wings overhead
and a shadow vanishes
in skybend.
A whisper, unfettered,
wanders from bank to bank
across river
Squiggles its surface and is
gone. Know this red flame,
this departing gasp of day.
Night now, builds its latticework from end
to end, its quarrel-frames fragile tinsel.
Damp fever grips land
Washed down by darkness,
rich, alluvial, miracle-worker,
this unclotting pigment.
Out of moon’s cup fish leap shiny
and fall back with clean plops.
A chukor in the cranebrake frantically calls.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “An interview with Waqas Khwaja

  1. Dr. Waqas Khawaja and myself were once in Civil Service of Pakistan (Income Tax). Thanks God both us left early, before before fully rotten, to safeguard our creativeness. This interview proves that a person gets impetus and creativity from liberal and human environment around him. Waqas has excelled in English literature–a rare achievement for any Pakistani. We are proud of his work.

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