Dunya Mikhail on Winning a $25K Kresge Arts Fellowship

Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail yesterday became one of ten Detroit-area writers — eighteen grants; nineteen artists in all* — to be awarded a Kresge Artist Fellowship. ArabLit asked Mikhail a few questions about the award and her current projects:

Photo credit: Marvin Shaouni.
Photo credit: Marvin Shaouni.

The $25,000 no-strings-attached grants go to working artists in the literary, visual, or performing arts.

The award, which kicked off in 2008, has granted more than $2.5 million to artists living in Michigan’s Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties. There were more than 700 applicants for the fellowships. According to Kresge Assistant Director Mira Burack, artists who work in any language are eligible for the fellowships, although they must submit work in English translation. Mikhail is the first Kresge Artist Fellow to be recognized for her translated work.

Mikhail is also the first Arab artist to win a Kresge Artist Fellowship.

ArabLit: I see that the fellowship is unrestricted, which is wonderful. But is there something in particular that you plan to work on in the coming months?

Dunya Mikhail: I am working on my new poetry book The Iraqi Nights.  It took about three years and now I am putting the final touches (although it’s never final for me). The poem’s title is a reference to Scheherazade’s ability to save herself through stories in The Arabian Nights. I began writing the main poem of the manuscript after my niece was kidnapped while walking home from a market in Baghdad. She was pulled from her mother’s grasp, dragged into a car, and has not been heard from since. Some of the sections are visual, with illustrations that are inspired by the ancient Sumerian tablets.  Although the setting is Baghdad, the theme is universal. Kareem James Abu-Zeid is coordinating with me the translation into English.

AL: The press release says that “ArtServe Michigan provides professional practice opportunities for the fellows.” Is that mainly for the visual artists? Or will the fellowship also facilitate readings/etc. for you?

With other literary arts fellows. Front row: Chace “Mic Write” Morris, Terry Blackhawk, Dunya Mikhail, adrienne maree, Cary Loren. Back: Second Row: Arthur R. LaBrew, Carolyn Walker, Michael Zadoorian. Photo credit: Marvin Shaouni.
With other literary arts fellows. Front row: Chace “Mic Write” Morris, Terry Blackhawk, Dunya Mikhail, adrienne maree, Cary Loren. Back: Second Row: Arthur R. LaBrew, Carolyn Walker, Michael Zadoorian. Photo credit: Marvin Shaouni.

DM: It’s for us literary artists too. During the fellowship year, The Kresge Foundation will provide us with professional opportunities such as Creative Capital Retreat (workshops), individual sessions, short documentary films to highlight our works, and communication resources. I am really excited about all this!

AL: How has your relationship with your Michigan readers changed and developed? Other poets/writers living in Michigan, whether Arabic- or English- or other-language-writing? Do you feel part of the Michigan writing community? Or more of a global writing community?

DM: I feel part of a global writing community but I feel that I need to be part of the Michigan writing community as well. I am hoping that this fellowship is a chance for me to develop friendships with writers and artists in Michigan. I feel the need to meet in person (and not only via emails) with people who are crazy about art and literature. That’s what I miss the most from my time in Baghdad (where I was born and raised), those meetings with the friends who used to meet despite the war (or was it because of the war?)


Also, if you are a Detroit-area artist, Burack said:

“The 2014 Kresge Artist Fellowship applications will be available November 1, 2013 and they will be awarded in the dance/music and film/theatre categories. Our program runs on a two-year cycle, and in 2013 the Fellowship categories were literary arts and visual arts and those categories will be awarded again in 2015.”

More about the award:

Detroit Free Press: Metro Detroiters gain big opportunities as Kresge Artist Fellows

More about Mikhail’s work can be found at:


*Andrea + Gary Urbiel Goldner received one grant and thus are counted as one person. 


  1. Congratulations, Dunya-Mikhail! My daughter (poet Eleni Sikelianos) and her husband (writer Laird Hunt) just led a 2-week workshop in Casablanca (in 3 languages: English, Arabic & French) to help further Arabic writers in writing, publishing and getting their work known. A new dawn is coming for the writers of your generation….so talented & soul-ful! I will look for your work! Sincerely, Ms Elayne Sikelianos Detroit, MI

    1. Were they at the MASNAA workshop? Excellent! Thanks so much for sharing that & your congratulations.

  2. Congratulations!

  3. 1001 Mabrouk!
    Ferial Ghazoul

  4. My heart felt Congratulations. Can’t wait to see your new book. ألف مبروك يا دنيا وبالتوفيق والنجاح دائماً

  5. Many kudos, Dunya! I’m so happy for this, among many, of your successes!

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