Meena Alexander

(1951 - 2018)

Poet, academic, and educator Meena Alexander was born in Allahabad, India. She was raised in India and Sudan by her Syrian Christian family. At just 13, she enrolled in Khartoum University, receiving a BA in English and French with honors in 1969. This impressive achievement was followed by a PhD from the University of Nottingham, which she completed at 22. She moved back to India at this point, where she taught at several universities and published her first three poetry books. In 1979, upon meeting and marrying an American, David Lelyveld, she moved to the United States.

The author of numerous acclaimed poetry books, including the PEN Open Book Award–winning lliterate Heart, Alexander also published novels, academic studies, essay collections, and an autobiographical memoir. Her many honors include fellowships and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Alexander taught at schools including the University of Hyderabad, Fordham University, and Columbia University, and at the end of her life served as Distinguished Professor of English at Hunter College and at the CUNY Graduate Center in the PhD program in English. She died of cancer in 2018, survived by her husband and two children.


Photo by Mona Aipperspach.