The Writer’s Center and Poet Lore welcome poets Rooja Mohassessy and Shara McCallum for a reading and discussion of their latest books.
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Rooja Mohassessy is an Iranian-born poet and educator. She is a MacDowell Fellow and an MFA graduate of Pacific University Oregon. Her debut collection When Your Sky Runs Into Mine won the 22nd Annual Elixir Poetry Award and was released by the press in February 2023. Her poems and reviews have appeared in Narrative Magazine, Poet Lore, RHINO Poetry, Southern Humanities Review, CALYX Journal, Ninth Letter, Cream City Review, The Adroit Journal, New Letters, The Florida Review, Poetry Northwest, The Pinch, The Rumpus, The Journal, and elsewhere.
From Jamaica and born to a Jamaican father and Venezuelan mother, Shara McCallum has published six books in the US & UK, including her most recent, No Ruined Stone, winner of the 2022 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry. An anthology of her poems translated into Spanish by Adalber Salas Hernández, La historia es un cuarto, was published in 2021 in Mexico. McCallum is an Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English at Penn State University, is on the faculty of the Pacific University Low-residency MFA, and served as the 2021-22 Penn State Laureate.
About the Books
When Your Sky Runs Into Mine is a memoir-in-verse recounting one woman’s transnational journey through multiple cultures and across several borders. An ekphrastic conversation between niece and uncle, Rooja Mohassessy’s poems pay homage to her uncle, the prominent Iranian painter and sculptor, Bahman Mohassess (1931-2010) who facilitated her emigration from Iran at the height of the Iran-Iraq war. The collection follows the coming-of-age journey of an adolescent toward self-realization and freedom.
“When Your Sky Runs Into Mine is a stunning debut collection. Set against childhood in the post-revolutionary Iran of the 1980s and coming of age as an immigrant in exile, the poems are an intricate ekphrastic dance where the poet embodies the roles of women, and decides, “It’s time to come to terms / with the dark” ––the dark of the chador, of blackouts during bombing, of immigrant guilt for family left behind. This collection is also about personal revolution, the turning toward art in times of suffering, the claiming of a rich cultural heritage.” —Ellen Bass, author of Indigo
“Mohassessy’s intellectual power and penchant for image stand out in beautiful ways in this debut collection. She displays a painterly use of color, texture, and image that reflects her striking awareness of the physical world. Her capacity for efficient and elegant syntax and her fierce intelligence when dealing with political subjects and subjects of the female body in this world, constitute a most welcome addition to American poetry. This is a very impressive debut collection by a most promising poet.” —Kwame Dawes, author of UnHistory with John Kinsella
“No Ruined Stone imagines what might have happened if Robert Burns had sailed from Scotland in 1786, as planned, to take a job on a slave plantation in Jamaica…The worlds it vividly presents beget reflections on creativity, history, slavery, race and many other issues. It is an exceptional work, a memorable achievement.” —Mervyn Morris
“Shara McCallum’s magnificent sixth book mythologizes the poet Robert Burns and his imagined Jamaican descendants through a chorus of intergenerational voices. This collection is timely and timeless as it reframes the complicated genealogies created by colonialism…These poems offer an intricate history more honest and unforgiving than the tidy myths we’re content to live with.” —Adrian Matejka