WAQAS AHMAD KHWAJA
Ellen Douglass Leyburn Professor of English,
Agnes Scott College,
141 East College Avenue, Decatur, GA 30030
Waqas Khwaja was born in Lahore, Pakistan. He obtained his BA from Government College, Lahore, majoring in English Literature and Political Science, and LLB (Legum Baccalaureus) from the Punjab University Law College, Lahore. After obtaining his license to practice law, he joined the Central Superior Services of Pakistan, where, on completion of his training at the Civil Services Academy of Pakistan at Lahore, he served in the Income Tax Department for about two years. Resigning from service, when his previously approved leave to study abroad on the Rotary Foundation Fellowship for Graduate Studies he had won in open competition was canceled by the military government that had seized power in a coup, he left the country to pursue the study of English and American literature at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. There he remained for the next three years, completing his Ph.D. coursework and teaching introductory writing and literature courses to undergraduate classes during this period. At this time he was constrained to return to Pakistan owing to personal and family exigencies.
Back in Pakistan, he started his law practice and, over the next eleven years, established himself in the profession even as he continued to pursue his love of writing and literature by contributing to local and national papers, magazines, and journals, publishing his poetry and translations in English of literary works from local languages, while also running a writers’ group he had founded with two close associates and fellow writers. He was a regular contributor to The Frontier Post, The Pakistan Economic Review, The Pakistan Times, News International, The Nation, and The Friday Times during this period, publishing articles and essays on writers and literature from a variety of linguistic and cultural traditions as also on subjects as wide-ranging as education and economics, history, culture, and politics.
His breakthrough book of poems, Six Geese From a Tomb at Medum, was published by Sang-e-Meel Publications in 1987. The following year, another one of his important books, Mornings in the Wilderness, an anthology of Pakistani literature containing fiction and poetry by English-language writers as well as by some leading contemporary Urdu writers, whose work he translated into English himself for this publication, was released. Thus, in addition to his growing credentials as a poet, with this he established himself also as an editor and translator of national significance. It brought him, that same year, recognition on a larger scale. He was awarded the prestigious fellowship of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, and he spent the fall semester based there, participating, to begin with, in the University seminars, sharing his work with students, colleagues, and faculty of the University’s creative writing program, and becoming acquainted with the work of his fellow participants from Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Europe, and influential contemporary American writers. Later he traveled with a small group of fellow awardees to various cities across the United States giving readings, meeting local writers, and getting to know the literary scene in each of these places.
Upon his return to Pakistan, these experiences became the basis, first, of a series of articles he published over the next several months in the weekly literary edition of The Pakistan Times, and later, in 1990, of his book Writers and Landscapes, this too released by Sang-e Meel. In 1993, Khwaja moved to the United States, but not before publishing another book of poems, Mariam’s Lament and other poems, with Sang-e-Meel, to some excellent reviews. He completed his Ph.D. in English in 1995 from Emory University with a dissertation on W. M. Thackeray’s later novels and joined the faculty of English at Agnes Scott College that very year. He was chair of the English department at Agnes Scott College from 2004-2007.
Khwaja now holds an endowed chair as the Ellen Douglass Leyburn Professor of English at Agnes Scott College, and teaches courses in Postcolonial World literature, British Romanticism, Narratives of Empire, Gothic literature, Victorian poetry and fiction, Literature and Leadership, and Creative Writing. Since 1995, he has published two further collections of poetry, No One Waits for the Train (Alhambra Publishing, Belgium, 2007) and Hold Your Breath (The Onslaught Press, Oxford, UK, 2017), and his work continues to receive widespread appreciation. His poems and translations have appeared in US, Pakistani, Indian, European, East Asian and Far Eastern publications, literary journals, and anthologies.
Contributions in the area of translation, editing, and scholarship continue to diversify Khwaja’s output. He served as translation editor (and contributor) for Modern Poetry of Pakistan (Dalkey Archive Press, Champaign and London, 2011), an anthology, compiled under the editorship of the celebrated Pakistani poet Mr. Iftikhar Arif, which showcases the work of 44 poets through nearly one hundred and fifty poems from seven of Pakistan’s national and regional languages, the consummation of a groundbreaking translation project jointly sponsored by the National Endowment of the Arts and the Pakistan Academy of Letters. This anthology was launched at various venues in the United States, Pakistan, and the UK to great acclaim and has garnered rich praise from experts, reviewers, and general readers alike. During the same period, Khwaja guest-edited a special issue of scholarly articles on Pakistani Literature for the Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies (Vol. 16, No: 1, Spring 2009, published in 2011), and, a couple of years later, another dedicated number on Pakistani poetry for Atlanta Review (Vol. XX, No: 2, Spring/Summer 2014). He was honored with the Outstanding Creative Writing award by the South Asian Literary Association (a professional association of academics and scholars of South Asian literature and literary studies based in the United States) at their annual conference in Philadelphia in 2017.
Khwaja is keenly interested in issues of justice, equity, and fairness and believes that poetry is a powerful tool for achieving greater awareness and understanding of the key areas of abrasion and conflict in our times and for promoting peace, inclusivity, mutual respect and consideration for each other, for other life forms, and for our environment. He regularly organizes poetry readings for social and political causes and arranges open public readings annually at Agnes Scott College as part of the international “100 Thousand Poets for Change” project, founded, promoted, and run by the poets and artists Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion.