Hajar Hussaini

Russell Sage College will host poet and translator Hajar Hussaini for a reading and book signing on April 20, 2023, at 4 p.m. in Cowee Hall. 

Hussaini grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, before attending Sage and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Today, she’s a visiting assistant professor at Skidmore College. 

In this Q&A, she talks about her current writing projects and how her bachelor’s degree in English, Writing & Culture (formerly known as Writing & Contemporary Thought) prepared her for a prestigious graduate program and her work as a literature professor. 

Please describe the work you will read on April 20.

I will read from my debut poetry collection, Disbound. Multiple series of poems are buried in this book, ranging from conceptually oriented works to found language poems to intensely lyrical stuff. 

The thread connecting these poems is my subjectivity that intentionally or subconsciously blurs the line between identity and national identification. Sometimes the “I” in the poem is informed by my own or my family’s experiences, but at other times, the “I” is a composite of subjects rendered possible by the mere accident of carrying an Afghan passport. 

You are now a visiting assistant professor at Skidmore College. Are there any professors from Sage who especially influenced how you teach?

I have been fortunate to have the opportunity of teaching two literature courses at Skidmore thus far: Postcolonial Culture and World Literature. 

I have learned from classes I took with Professor Maureen Gokey at Russell Sage College that it’s OK to include texts in my syllabi that I’m not very comfortable teaching. I remember Professor Gokey taught courses on diverse voices ranging from Daughters of Africa to Children of Conquistadors to Comparative Mythology. She gracefully mentioned that these texts are not her research materials, yet engaging with the world through their literary production is necessary, even if we may not be the authoritative voice in analyzing that literature. Ultimately that’s how our students perceive literature as a means to expand our understanding of the world. As a result, in my classes, I include literature from the Caribbean, Algeria and Nigeria. I do not know a lot about these places, but I do love these texts that are imagined in such places, and including them has been informative for both myself and my students.

 What is your writing practice like? Do you have an “everyday” routine?

I don’t write every day or every week, although I wrote more frequently as a graduate student, partly because that was all we used to do. Teaching takes a good chunk of my intellectual energy, and it’s enriching in a different yet nevertheless meaningful way. I write whenever I am obsessed about something, and when that thing keeps boiling in me for a long time, its distillation eventually pushes me to open an empty page of Microsoft Word to type a word or phrase here and there. Then comes the constant process of revision and finesse. 

How did your Sage education prepare you for the Iowa Writers’ Workshop?

My poetry classes with Matthew Klane were worthwhile. I learned a lot in each of those courses, and during my time at Sage, many poetry readings were scheduled throughout the academic year; I went to all of them. Those events gave me a good picture of the poetry scene in the U.S. Because I was an international student, I was very interested in learning how the poetry culture worked or was shaped here. 

The poetry room at Shea Learning Center and the beautiful campus provided much space for thinking and processing feelings. One other thing that I overlooked was the city of Troy. It’s a very inspiring place to be young and interested in literature and poetry. 

What other projects are you working on?

I’m working toward translating Afghan literature into English. Much captivating work has been written during the past 20 years in the cities of Kabul, Herat and Mazar, and this is a generation of writers from which I have hailed and write in relation to and in conjunction with. Not much, if anything, has been translated from this time in Afghanistan, rather any epoch in Afghanistan, with the exception of a few poems here and there. My goal is to mediate between my writer friends who have left Afghanistan and are living in various exiles across Europe, the U.S. and Asia, and the small writing community I have involved myself in in the U.S. 

Is there anything that you would like to add?

I look forward to returning to Sage and seeing my former professors and new students. I hope to see many familiar faces in Troy. And, lastly, thank you, Professor Tonya Moutray, for arranging this event. 

Recent News

June 6, 2024

New York State Food Summit Tackles Food Insecurity and Cultural Responsiveness, Food as Medicine, Strengthening Food Assistance Networks on June 12 at Russell Sage College

The New York State Food Summit on June 12 at Russell Sage College’s Albany campus will bring together approximately 400 food assistance providers, faculty from multiple colleges and universities, and advocates to share research, innovations, and best practices for hunger relief. The event will be held from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Armory […]
Read More
June 6, 2024

Q&A with Graduate Faculty Member of the Year Francesca Durand, Ph.D.

Francesca Durand, Ph.D., found her calling as an educational researcher in graduate school, and now shares her expertise as a research methods professor in Russell Sage College’s Educational Leadership doctoral program and as member of a research team focused on improving educator practice in K-12 schools.   In May 2024, she received Sage’s Terry M. Cannizzaro […]
Read More
June 4, 2024

Russell Sage College to Open Speech Clinic, Start Academic Programs With Three Faculty From The College of Saint Rose

Furthering its commitment to the health professions and education, Russell Sage College has hired three faculty from The College of Saint Rose to launch a speech therapy clinic July 8 and begin undergraduate and graduate programs in communication sciences and disorders in 2025 and 2029 respectively.  Saint Rose was a pioneer in the field of […]
Read More