Poet and scholar Mohja Kahf was born in Damascus, Syria. Her family moved to the United States in 1971, and Kahf grew up in the Midwest. She earned a PhD in comparative literature from Rutgers University and is the author of the poetry collections Hagar Poems (2016) and Emails from Scheherazad (2003) and the novel The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf (2006).
Kahf’s experiences growing up in the United States shaped her perceptions of the differences and similarities between the cultures of her home and adopted countries. Her poetry is an amalgam of both Syrian and American influences; Lisa Suhair Majaj commented in ArteNews that Kahf’s work “draws on American colloquialisms and Quranic suras; it is informed not only by American free verse … but also by a lush energy that draws on the heart of the Arabic oral tradition and Arabic poetry.” Kahf sometimes satirizes stereotypes about Muslim women—she has tackled hairstyles, sex, and clothing. In Emails from Scheherazad, she locates Scheherazad in 21st-century Hackensack, New Jersey. Majaj observed that Kahf “unsettles assumptions about Scheherazad while also emphasizing aspects of the traditional tale that often get overlooked in western portrayals.” Kahf has also written about the hardships of immigration; The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf depicts a Muslim girl’s coming of age in Indiana.
Kahf co-writes a column on sexuality for the website Muslim Wake Up. Her nonfiction work includes Western Representation of the Muslim Woman: From Termagant to Odalisque (1999). Kahf is a professor of English at the University of Arkansas.