Anis Shivani has written numerous books of fiction, poetry, and criticism. His first book was Anatolia and Other Stories, with settings all around the world; the collection was labeled sui generis by such critics as Rigoberto Gonzalez. His debut poetry book My Tranquil War and Other Poems experimented with a variety of traditional forms and brought them up-to-date for contemporary cultural discourse; the book earned praise from Marilyn Hacker, Campbell McGrath, Michael McClure, Kevin Prufer, Franz Wright, Claudia Keelan, Fady Joudah, Jay Parini, and others. He followed up with Against the Workshop: Provocations, Polemics, Controversies, which critiqued the institutionalization of literary writing.
More recently, his novel Karachi Raj was published to much acclaim in 2015 (Orhan Pamuk and Ha Jin praised the novel), and a novel called A History of the Cat in Nine Chapters or Less is due out in the fall of 2016. Two recent poetry collections, Whatever Speaks on Behalf of Hashish and Soraya: Sonnets, have been highly experimental. While Against the Workshop was driven by a critique of contemporary American writing, his forthcoming trilogy of books of criticism makes global literature—or the globalization of literature—the central concern, amidst the crisis facing authorship on multiple fronts.
Over the last fifteen years he has been published in leading literary journals such as Yale Review, Black Warrior Review, Western Humanities Review, Georgia Review, Boston Review, Iowa Review, Threepenny Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Antioch Review, Southwest Review, Harvard Review, Washington Square, Prairie Schooner, AGNI, Fence, Epoch, Boulevard, Pleiades, Denver Quarterly, Volt, Colorado Review, Quarterly West, New Letters, Subtropics, Times Literary Supplement, London Magazine, Meanjin, Fiddlehead, and many others.
He has been a member of the National Book Critics Circle and has won the Pushcart Prize. In the early years of online criticism he led the charge to popularize innovative ways of discussing books, particularly from his perch at the Huffington Post. He is actively involved with different literary and artistic organizations in Houston, and directs Monsoon Art Space which brings together visual and literary artists in collaborative ventures.
I take a different approach to leading workshops than the standard format. Actually I don’t follow any of the rules of conventional workshops. My method is to empower students by deeply exposing them to the established body of works that speaks best to the technical challenges confronting them as individuals. The atmosphere of mutual supportiveness I try to create in my workshops is substantive and rigorous, based on technical mastery of particular genres and demonstration of progressive improvement deriving from exemplary models. My aim in trying to widen the discussion to specific past and present models relevant to apprentice work is for students to arrive at an objective analysis of their present level of skills and knowledge of what they must do in concrete terms to make their writing better.
E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel
George Orwell, Essays
Edmund Wilson, Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1930s and 40s
Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double
Andre Breton, Nadja
My experience in the Writefest poetry workshop far exceeded my expectations. Admittedly, I was intimidated because I do not consider myself a poet and Anis Shivani, the workshop leader, is a well-known poet and critic. Under Shivani’s mentorship, I learned how to write in form, specifically writing sonnets, ghazals, minimalist, and prose poetry. The last day of workshop examined the work submitted at the beginning of the workshop, comparing it to the work created during the four days of the workshop. My poetry drastically improved! I can now say, I have a better understanding and deeper appreciation for the craft. Thank you Anis Shivani!
-- Morgan Cronin
I really liked that we didn't just read each other's work in a sort of simulated vacuum, but instead brought in all kinds of different major works to read and analyze, and were encouraged to experiment with form and style rather than focus on our particular "voice." -- Alex Riddle
Excerpt from Karachi Raj
In the tiny office, Claire had no choice but to occupy a child’s plastic bucket chair. Several pairs of ragged sneakers were lined up under Dr Mushtaq’s small desk. The customary brochures warning against infectious diseases were plastered over the walls. The exception was the picture of a hunched, dark-skinned cricketer, glaring after an invisible ball which he had presumably smacked out of sight for a boundary.
‘Who’s that?’ Claire wondered.
‘That’s Mushtaq Muhammad, brother of Hanif Muhammad and Sadiq Muhammad. A famous Pakistani cricketer of the sixties and seventies. I was named after him.’
‘I see. I’m finding out that cricket is like a religion here.’
‘The only religion,’ Dr Mushtaq winked, ‘the only religion where we’re not hypocritical.’