Dunya Mikhail

Acclaimed Iraqi Poet
Arab American Book Award-winner

Readings &
Lecture Topics
  • In Her Feminine Sign
  • The Making of The Beekeeper
  • An Evening with Dunya Mikhail

Biography

“Mikhail’s style maintains an impressive fragility and delicacy of image that touches the reader’s heart…” —American Poetry Review 

“Stark and poignant, Mikhail’s poems give voice to an often buried, glossed-over or spun grief.” —Publishers Weekly

“Shakespeare would have enjoyed the poetry of Dunya Mikhail, who has spoken of love as a response to a war-torn world—an aesthetic, a value, and a practice. ” —Christian Science Monitor

Dunya Mikhail was born in Iraq in 1965 and was forced to flee in the wake of the first Gulf War when her writings attracted the attention of The Iraqi authorities. Renowned for her subversive, innovative, and satirical poetry, Mikhail speaks about her experiences growing up in a war-torn country, sleeping on the roof of her family’s home during the sweltering summers until the air raid sirens sounded, and losing her father, not to violence but to the lack of adequate medical care.

Mikhail’s book The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq (New Directions, 2018), which was longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award for Literature in Translation, is a nonfiction account of the capture and enslavement of young girls and women by ISIS who are rescued by an unlikely hero: a beekeeper, who uses his knowledge of the local terrain, along with a wide network of transporters, to bring these women, one by one, through the war-torn landscapes of Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, back into safety. She is the author of three poetry collections In Her Feminine Sign (2019), The Iraqi Nights (2014), and The War Works Hard (2005), shortlisted for the Griffin Prize and named one of Twenty-Five Books to Remember from 2005 by the New York Public Library; and the memoir Diary of A Wave Outside the Sea (2009) which won the 2010 Arab American Book Award. She also edited a pamphlet of Iraqi poetry titled 15 Iraqi Poets.

In an NPR interview, Mikhail said, “I feel that poetry is not medicine—it’s an X-ray. It helps you see the wound and understand it. We all feel alienated because of this continuous violence in the world. We feel alone, but we feel also together. So we resort to poetry as a possibility for survival. However, to say I survived is not so final as to say, for example, I’m alive. We wake up to find that the war survived with us.”

Mikhail’s honors include the UN Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing (2001), Kresge Artist Fellowship (2013), and in 2021 she was named a United States Artist Writing Fellow. She writes in Arabic and English and selections of her work are translated into Italian, Chinese, Spanish, Kurshi, Hindi, among other languages. She is the co-founder of Mesopotamian Forum for Art and Culture in Michigan.

Mikhail lives in Michigan and works as an Arabic lecturer for Oakland University.

Short Bio

Dunya Mikhail was born in Iraq in 1965 and came to the United States in 1996. Her books include In Her Feminine Sign (2019); The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq (2018), which was longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award for Literature in Translation; The Iraqi NightsDiary of A Wave Outside the Sea; and The War Works Hard. She also edited a pamphlet of Iraqi poetry titled 15 Iraqi Poets. Her honors include the Kresge Fellowship, Arab American Book Award, and the United Nations Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing. The War Works Hard was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and named one of the New York Public Library’s Twenty-Five Books to Remember from 2005. She is the co-founder of Mesopotamian Forum for Art and Culture in Michigan. She currently works as an Arabic special lecturer at Oakland University in Michigan.

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