Poet, writer, novelist, editor, critic, essayist and crusader for social justice, D. H. Melhem, Ph.D., authored eight books of poetry, including Art and Politics: Politics and Art (Syracuse U. Press,2010), New York Poems (Syracuse U. Press, 2005), Conversation with a Stonemason (IKON, 2003), a chapbook sequence, Poems for You (P&Q Press, 2000).
Of Country (CCC, 1998), a book-length poem sequence about the United States, early pieces led the late Barbara A. Holland to state, “D. H. Melhem is the queen of topical poetry . . . the organ voice of the United States.” Of Rest in Love (rpt. Confrontation Press, 1995), an internationally acclaimed elegy for her mother, Cynthia Ozick observes, “It is permanent. It will remain until the stars burn out and the planet goes dark.”
D. H. Melhem was born on July 14, 1926, in Brooklyn, New York, to Lebanese immigrants (with paternal Greek ancestry). She was a lifelong resident of New York City, where her two children were born and raised. Melhem also published a trilogy of novels under the title Patrimonies. The trilogy begins with Blight (Riverrun, 1995, distributed by Syracuse University Press and optioned as a feature film) and continues with Stigma & The Cave (Syracuse Univ. Press, 2007). Of her scholarly works, Gwendolyn Brooks: Poetry and the Heroic Voice (Univ. Press of Kentucky) was the first comprehensive study of the poet. Heroism in the New Black Poetry: Introductions and Interviews (also from UPK), concerns six leading Black poets. A National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship study, it later won an American Book Award. The book inspired poet Charles Guenther to call her “. . . a ‘superstar’ in understanding and interpreting modern Black American Poetry” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch).
Melhem also authored more than 70 essays, edited two anthologies, and wrote Children of theHouse Afire , a musical drama based on her poems about Manhattan’s West Side. Her Notes on 94th Street (1972; 1979) was the first poetry book in English by an Arab American woman, and was proposed by Gwendolyn Brooks for a Pulitzer Prize.
A board member of the Journal of the Research Group on Socialism and Democracy and contributing editor to Home Planet News , a former Governing Board member of Pen & Brush, , she also served as first vice president of the International Women’s Writing Guild for many years.
Melhem was chosen to give a poetry workshop and reading at the IWWG’s first conference abroad in 2005 in Geneva, Switzerland. Her undergraduate work was completed at New York University, where she was graduated cum laude as a member of both Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Delta Omicron, the English honorary society. Following a hiatus in her academic studies, during which she was married and raised two children, she earned a master’s degree in English at City College and a doctoral degree in English and American literature at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
D. H. Melhem died on June 15, 2013, in Long Beach, California. Her obituary may be viewed at:
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