Professor of Hebrew
Department Chair, 1995-1999
King Hall, Room 201
PhD, City University of New York
A recipient of the College Teaching Award, Ammiel Alcalay has taught Sephardic Literature (both Hebrew and in-translation), and a variety of courses on Middle Eastern and Mediterranean literacy and intellectual culture and its contemporary and modern reception, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as creative writing. A comparatist by training, he specializes in these topics and in Balkan literatures and history, poetics, and theories of translation; he publishes translations of Hebrew and Bosnian, as well as his own poetry.
I am variously considered a scholar, critic, translator and poet/prose writer. Though the range of my concerns is broad, I have followed a certain path in which all aspects of my work - scholarly research, writing prose or poetry, translation, compiling, editing and reviewing texts - feed and nurture each other. My immersion in a diversity of languages and cultures has shaped and informed my place win American culture. I have come to see myself as a conveyor of ideas, texts, histories, cultural encounters and narrative points of view that, for a variety of reasons, have not gotten the attention they merit.
Over the past fifteen years, I have focused primarily on Hebrew and Jewish literature of the Middle East, in its Islamic, Levantine Arabic, and Israeli contexts. My work on Bosnia during the war in former Yugoslavia has entailed similar efforts at creating the cultural space for unfamiliar works to emerge. Throughout, my work as poet and prose-writer remains a crucial reference point, representing a kind of standard in form and content that I insist my other writing (and translation) adheres to. This work, as well, covers a great geographical and chronological range, and the form it takes often cuts across narrowly defined areas dividing "creative," "critical" and "scholarly" domains.
These are concerns that I have taken to heart in both my teaching as well as my involvement in the life of the college. For the past several semesters, I have been teaching the Advanced Poetry Workshop in the English department. Rather than a departure for me, I have found this experience has enabled me to rejoin diverse cultural and linguistic strands within the texture of my native American idiom. Moreover, through the incorporation of translation exercises, research projects involving other cultural and linguistic traditions, as well as wide-ranging reading assignments, these classes have given me an opportunity to put into practice very practical curricular and cultural concerns.
These concerns revolve around what I perceive to be a lack of cohesion in the general education requirements at the college and an overwhelming acceptance of monolingualism and monoculturalism.
My initiation of and continuing involvement in the Human Rights at Queens Memorial Lectures Project, and International Visiting Writers@Queens are ongoing efforts to cross boundaries and bring the truly pluricultural realities of our students and the world we inhabit to legitimate, creative and intellectually stimulating forms of expression. On the administrative level, I have spared no effort to spur on a pragmatic discussion among colleagues across the campus to break down the often artificial barriers existing between disciplines and diverse forms of knowledge. I see this kind of work as simply an extension of my own creative and intellectual vocation, one that must be carried out beyond the life of the mind engaged in scholarship or creative work and into the public domain where it can effect the kinds of expectations we place upon our students and the very structure of our institutions.