There are many things you can say about Sam Hamod, he’s a poet, a nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, Ph.D. from the famed Iowa Writers Workshop where he taught and studied, a critical political writer, a healer, an editor, a professor, a spiritual, multifaceted and interfaith religious Muslim leader who ran The Islamic Center in Washington, DC after he ousted the radical Khomeni group, founded the internationally acclaimed, Third World News in Washington, DC, taught at Princeton, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Howard and more, but I’d say, as has Ishmael Reed, “He’s a man for all seasons and all situations,” something very rare in this world.
Hamod’s international perspective in his writings stems from his roots as the first son born of Lebanese Muslim immigrant parents, and the fact that in the first 5 years of his life he lived in a boarding house hotel, the South Shore Hotel, in Gary, Indiana, with 40 boarders from around the world who had come to work in the steel mills; men from Poland, Greece, Russia, Turkey, Mexico, Slovaks, and even Hillbillies from Tennesee and the hills of Kentucky.
After that period, his father opened a bar in the African American section of Gary, and Hamod spent every night except Sunday night from 6 pm until midnight listening to the likes of Ivory Joe Hunter and other bluesmen who would come in from Chicago to Gary to play at The Broadway Tavern. This went on from age 6 to 12, when life changed a lot and his father had to go through a trial for killing a man in self defense at the bar. But during the that time, Hamod came into contact with many from the Moorish Science Temple and Ahmadiya Muslim sects, and he also was getting tutoring in Islam—all the time, living in the house as if they were in Lebanon, but outside, living in America. During this time, there were also many trips to Iowa and to Michigan City, Indiana to visit with other Muslim relatives.
Thus, his life was a combination of the days at the hotel, nights at the bar, hillbilly music, Indian music, Arabic music and blues. Also, stories from his grandfather and father about Lebanon, his mother’s stories of growing up Muslim in Iowa, and stories from his grandfather of how he carried suitcases of dry goods to farm wives for years, even in the fierce snowstorms of Iowa. During this time, he also spent time with his father going to see Hon. Elijah Muhammad in Chicago, and was involved with his youth and at the same time, Islamic affairs. His father had become a friend of Mr.Muhammad, and they remained friends until his father’s untimely death by assassination.
But, after high school and at year at the University of Iowa, luckily through a strange set of blessings, he ended up at Northwestern University, where he learned about a life away from the steel mills, hotel, and bar. He took a B.S. degree from Northwestern, got married, had a son, attended Law School at The University of Chicago, then, later, to help his parents, returned to Gary to open The Broadway Lounge, where he hired such blues greats as B.B.King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Red Foxx, and others to perform. Hamod was saturated in African American culture where jazz and blues took center stage. Hamod, playing jazz and singing the blues professionally himself. As he says, “Carrying a 38, a 32, and a 25 calibre Browning, and a slapstick were not the kind of life I wanted to lead. Even though the bar made a lot of money, Hamod decided to become a professor, as a better way to live.
He returned to Northwestern University where he received his MA : with concentrations in Communications, Rhetorical Theory and Practice (Western and non-Western), Film and TV, and did as his thesis, a published paper, “Arabic and Islamic Rhetorical Theory and Practice.”
Further education during this time period includes the following institutes: Native American Lit.; Afro-American Lit. at the University of Iowa; Arab and Islamic Culture at Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt; IBM Management Institute in Chicago, IL.
Realizing that his future was in writing, Hamod attended, then later taught, in the famed Iowa Writer’s workshop with W.S. Merwin, Anselm Hollo, Galway Kinnell, Richard Hugo, Allan Ginsberg, Jack Marshall, Kurt Vonnegut, Vance Bourjaily, Bill Murray, Robert Coover and Richard Yates. He received one of the few PhD’s awarded in Creative Writing from the Workshop in 1973. His double Dissertation: Where the Air Is Clear (selections Hamod’s books of published poetry) and A Critical Study of the Complete Poetry of James Wright is still in publication.
Hamod was the first Muslim American poet to publish a book of poems in America, in 1965. He published his first book of poetry in 1965, Beaten Stones Like Memories. Followed by: The Holding Action; 1969, The Famous Boating Party; 1970, After the Funeral of Assam Hamady; 1971, Surviving in America (with Anselm Hollo and Jack Marshall); 1971, The Famous Blue Mounds Scrapbook; 1972, Where the Air Is Clear; 1973, and The Famous Boating Party II; 1973.
Earlier Hamod won critical acclaim from such writers as Nobel Prize winners Pablo Neruda who stated, “There are few poets who combine emotion, rhythm, clarity and language in the way of the American poet, Sam Hamod.” Jorge Luis Borges commented that , “Sam Hamod is a poet of the South.” Meaning that Hamod connects with Spain through the blood of the Moors who founded the country and heavily influenced Spanish and Latino culture. Carlos Fuentes said of Hamod, “He is the inheritor of Lorca and Neruda, he has their sense of life, their energy, their sense of humanity and his vision is clear.”
In 2000, Sam followed Dying with the Wrong Name with another successful book, The Arab Poems, The Muslim Poems, awarded the Ethnic Prize in Poetry, which in turn was followed by the Pulitzer Prize nominated book, Just Love Poems for You; 2006.
Hamod’s works have also appeared in over a hundred anthologies including: Unsettling America; From Totem to Hip Hop; Poets Mama Didn’t Raise; Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing 8th edition ; A World of Poetry; Settling America; Grapeleaves: A Century of Arab American Poetry; Traveling America With Today’s Poets; Good Company: Poets at the University of Michigan; Golden Jubilee of the Writers Workshop (Memories and Comments); I Love You All Day; An Eye For An Eye: Poets on 9/11; In Flight; We Start From Here: Poets on Palestine and Lebanon; Contemporary Arab American Poetry; the Magee Park Poets; Poetry From the Arab World; And We Begin Here: Poems of Lebanon and Palestine, 2007; and The San Diego Poetry Annuals of 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010.
Jennifer Gillan editor of Unsettling America writes, “By refusing to be defined or named in another’s terms, poets like Hamod, […] challenge stereotypes about their cultures, artistic productions and bodies; through the power of their writing, they refuse to accept the designated boundaries that say that the issue of who or what is America is settled once and for all.”
Hamod is the recipient of several awards for his works over the years such as; NEH; NEA; Ethnic Heritage Award; Friends of Literature: Ferguson Award; Washington, DC Commission on the Arts Award in Poetry (twice); Iowa Workshop Poetry Award for First Book of Poems; Fellowships at University of Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern and University of Chicago Law School; Larry Neal Award in Poetry.
In addition to these accolades, Hamod has read with some of the most influential writers of a generation: National Poetry Festival, 1975 (with Galway Kinnell, James Wright, Robert Bly, Ishmael Reed, Diane Wakoski, Sonia Sanchez and others).
Notre Dame Literary Festival, 1977 (with Tennessee Williams, William Burroughs, Denise Levertov, Ken Kesey, David Ignatow and others).
Poetry in 2000: Folger Library National Conference on “Directions in Poetry in 2000”.
Pushing Through the Pain,” CEA and Society for Multi-ethnic Literature, 1979 ;”Post-Modern Poetics and Criticism,” MLA, 1977; “Robert Hayden in the Peacock Room,” Conference on Contemporary Poetry, 1978; “Muscling Through the Landscape of Despair: Poetry, Dick Hugo,” MMLA, 1980; “Arabic and Islamic Rhetorical Theory and Practice, Central States Speech Journal, 1963; “The Rhetoric of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s War,” SAA, 1962; “Lying In A Hammock: Poetry of James Wright”, Contemporary Poetry ( A Journal of Criticism), 1977; “Teaching Creative Writing,” AWP, 1989; Fellini’s Dreams and Realities, Fellini and Borges: Explorations of Realities, and other papers as well. Poetry reading at Folger Library with Rita Dove, 1994.
One cannot name all of the history, writings, readings, and awards behind this exceptional man, Dr. Sam Hamod..He even spent time consulting with his old friend, Garry Marshall and sat in on ODD COUPLE AND HAPPY DAYS writing in Hollywood, CA,for a brief amount of time.
Perhaps, Sam’s friend and comrade Ishmael Reed sums it up best, “Sam Hamod is a brilliant poet in the ancient sense of the word. He can write as though his pen were a sword, as well as write as though his pen were the stem of a rose.”
It is a great honor to feature poet Sam Hamod on the first issue of Contemporary World Poetry: Journal for International Voices.
Kristen Scott; Editor CWLJA and CWPJ