A FAIR PORTRAIT OF MEENA ALEXANDER

Born in Allahabad, India, on February 17, 1951. Meena Alexander is the eldest of three children. Although christened “Mary Elizabeth,” she has been called Meena since birth. At the age of fifteen, she officially changed her name to Meena. In 1956, the Sudan gained independence and asked other Third World countries for assistance in establishing its government. Alexander’s father applied for a job with the Sudanese government and the family relocated to Khartoum. From age five to eighteen, Alexander traversed the waters between the Sudan and India, between Khartoum and Kerala, and between her immediate family and her grandparents. Once she was eighteen and had received her degree from Khartoum University, Alexander left her Sudanese home for Nottingham University in Britain. It was here that she earned her Ph.D., but her tie with India was not broken. She returned to Pune to her grandparents, and ended up working at Delhi University, Central Institute of Hyderabad, and Hyderabad University.
It was in Hyderabad that Alexander met her husband, David Lelyveld. In 1979, the two moved to New York City, where they still live with their two children: Adam Kuravilla Lelyveld (b. 1980) and Svati Maraiam Lelyveld (b. 1986). Alexander is currently a professor at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and still takes trips back to Kerala annually.
Meena Alexander’s literary career began early, at the tender age of ten, when she began writing poetry, and while her poetry might be her best-known work, her works span a variety of literary genres. Her first book, a single lengthy poem, entitled The Bird’s Bright Wing, was published in 1976 in Calcutta.
Since then, Alexander has published seven volumes of poetry, including River and Bridge; two novels: Nampally Road (1991) and Manhattan Music (1997); a collection of both prose and poetry, The Shock of Arrival: Reflections on Postcolonial Experience; a study on Romanticism: Women in Romanticism: Mary Wollstonecraft, Dorothy Wordsworth and Mary Shelley; and her autobiography, Fault Lines.
In Nampally Road, Alexander focuses on issues of cultural richness, psychological complexity, feminism and social politics. Nampally Road is a narrative of minority struggle that focuses on the juxtaposition of past relationships and cultural and historical inheritance. Alexander treads the waters of fiction lightly and gracefully”.
Alexander’s novel Manhattan Music is infused with the power of myth, poetry, and the inner life. She explores the crossing of borders from India to Manhattan, the Indian Diaspora, fanaticism, ethnic intolerance, interracial affairs and marriage, and what it means to be an American. One critic says, “Alexander’s writing is imbued with a poetic grace shot through with an inner violence…. with her gift of heightened sensibility, she can take a tragic, violent situation and juxtapose it with a description of terrible beauty.”
Alexander’s autobiography, an unraveling of her past, is titled Fault Lines. It conveys that, largely as a result of her family’s relocations when she was young, Alexander has struggled to forge a sense of identity, despite (or because of) a past full of moves and changes. This book revolves around the theme of establishing one’s self and forming an identity independent of one’s surroundings. In her autobiography, she writes: “I am, a woman cracked by multiple migrations. Uprooted so many times she can connect nothing with nothing”.
Alexander’s writing is lyrical, poignant, and sensual, dealing with large themes, including fanaticism, ethnic intolerance, terrorism, interracial affairs and marriages.  Her lyrical narratives have the eloquent economy that marks the best poetry.

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