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Alumna Edits Letter from Aleppo Author

Jahleh Ghanbari
Jahleh Ghanbari ’08

The recent atrocities in Aleppo have drawn worldwide condemnation. While many view the prolonged Syrian Civil War from afar, Keene State alumna Jahleh Ghanbari ’08 got the opportunity to experience the culture of the city and its notable lost literary history after its walls lay in ruin. Ghanbari, an English major, recently completed the editing of “Letters from Syria: Modernism in the Days of Civil War,” an article that appears in the blog page of Poetry International Magazine and is authored by Syrian Saleh Razzouk, an assistant professor at the University of Aleppo known for his expertise in world literature and literary theory who continued to correspond despite facing life-threatening conditions.

Ghanbari who corresponded with Razzouk through email said it wasn’t your typical editing job. “I always started my email by saying, ‘I hope you are safe,’” she said.

Fascinated with Razzouk’s recall of the city’s literary history that focused on the words of writers rather than the words of war, Ghanbari said the author would sometimes reflect on his personal ordeal. “Art can still survive during wartime,” said Ghanbari. “I was amazed by how much he wanted to talk about literature. I think it says something about the way art is connected to humanity – you need that. This is his passion. This is his outlet.”

Expressing her Own Literary Voice

A Muslim and feminist, Ghanbari was encouraged to express her own literary voice at Keene State. “It’s really about the people who saw something in me and took the time to foster that passion,” she said. “How special that is to have somebody invested in your work and be an advocate for you.”

Ghanbari, who minored in writing and women’s and gender studies and worked as a tutor in the Writing Center and later served as its assistant director, had a long list of influential mentors at Keene State including English Professor Kirsti Sandy. Sandy pointed out that Ghanbari was interested in the intersection of literature, politics, and human rights even at that time. “Jahleh is an incredible young woman, and I’m so proud to have had a role in her education,” said Sandy.

Staying in Contact with Keene State Faculty

Moving to Los Angeles on a whim, Ghanbari remained in contact with many Keene State faculty members including lecturer Jeff Friedman, who suggested she enroll in the MFA program at San Diego State University. Serving as a graduate assistant with Poetry International Magazine, Ghanbari began conversing with Razzouk, leading to her collaboration with the noted educator and scholar from Aleppo. Her last contact with Razzouk came shortly after a cease-fire was announced.

Ghanbari has also distinguished herself in the literary world. Several of her poems have appeared in Anthem, an online journal, as well as Forth, an L.A. arts and culture magazine. Ghanbari says she draws her inspiration from her family and cultural background, as the daughter of a father who is from Iran. “I grew up in New Hampshire and there weren’t very many Middle Eastern people around,” she said. “I think that it was incredibly important for me to be able to identify with those roots.”

Turning her attention to fiction writing, Ghanbari hopes to leave San Diego State with a manuscript ready to be published. Looking to work in the publishing field, Ghanbari says she has been inspired by her conversations with Razzouk and the many connections she has made. “Whatever I decide to do in the publishing world, it’s going to be representing voices that need to be heard,” she said.

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