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Our Ancestors Did Not Breathe This Air by Ayse Angela Guvenilir, Afeefah Khazi-Syed, Aleena Shabbir, Mariam Dogar, Marwa Abdulhai, and Maisha M. Prome

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Paperback, 192 pgs.
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Our Ancestors Did Not Breathe This Air by Ayse Angela Guvenilir, Afeefah Khazi-Syed, Aleena Shabbir, Mariam Dogar, Marwa Abdulhai, and Maisha M. Prome is a deeply moving collection of poems from young adults finding their way not only on the college campus of MIT, but also in an adopted country. They explore what it means to carry the weight of their heritage and faith in an adopted country that often hinders the progress of those who are not American or who look different, act different, or even believe differently.

Through a variety of unfiltered voices and styles, these poets bring to life their struggles and the joy of finding their own community amid the chaos. They examine the relationships with their mothers, through rewritten lullabies and other means, but the collection is not all dreary and confusion, there are lighter moments of play, particularly in the “On Summer” section.

From "Side effects of summer may include" (pg. 41) by Mariam Doger

...
Watermelon and mango and pineapple
A mouthful of ocean spray
Sand stuck in the pages of your novel
Poolside overheating at midday

An explosion of freckles
Windswept and wild hair
Cherry-stained lips on vanilla cream cones
Bedtimes chosen without a care

...

These poems run a spectrum of emotions, and in “Welcome Home,” Maisha M. Prome explores the tension of traveling between the United States and her home country and being asked by customs if she packed her own bags and the guilt she carries even though she knows nothing will be found out of order. But she also talks of the hope in two words “Welcome Home” said to her by one agent when she arrives back in the United States and what that means and how she replays it over and over.

Our Ancestors Did Not Breathe This Air by Ayse Angela Guvenilir, Afeefah Khazi-Syed, Aleena Shabbir, Mariam Dogar, Marwa Abdulhai, and Maisha M. Prome is a collection that will provide you with a fresh perspective on the hope many migrants see in their journeys to the United States, but also reminds us that reality is often peppered with darkness and shadow. It’s how you adapt and react that sets your journey apart.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Authors:

Afeefah Khazi-Syed, Aleena Shabbir, Ayse¬†Guvenilir, Maisha M. Prome, Mariam Dogar, and Marwa Abdulhai met as undergrads at MIT, where they often wrote poetry in each others dorm rooms. Now, they’re scattered across the country for graduate studies as they train to be doctors, engineers, mathematicians, and scientists. While the six write poetry from different backgrounds and expertise, they share the common goals of redefining literary spaces and breaking barriers through poetry. The poets hope their anthology will foster empathy and mutual reciprocity for the many intersectional facets they encapsulate.

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