Creative Writing
Department Chair:
DeSales Harrison

Administrative Assistant:
Suzanne Overstreet

Department Email:

Phone: (440) 775-6567
Fax: (440) 775-6677

153 W. Lorain Street

Oberlin, OH, 44074

Nava EtShalom

Nava EtShalom

Nava EtShalomI graduated from Oberlin in 2004 with an independent major in Creative Writing for Social Change, which was a kind of interdisciplinary conversation among creative writing, history, and Comparative American Studies. I was interested then, as I am now, in poetry's political life - not as a translation of critical theory or history, but as a particular and distinct way of making meaning. I was looking to poetry's new vocabularies to change our common sense about how borders and bodies work, to address questions about what language can do.

I learned to walk in a Jewish-only settlement in Gaza and to talk in Jerusalem, until my family returned to the U.S. and I was raised as an American kid on the East Coast. Since my first year at Oberlin, though, I've been a Palestine solidarity activist; last year I worked on a campaign called "No Time to Celebrate: Jews Remember the Nakba," a project that recognized over 60 years of Palestinian dispossession and refused the assumption of a Jewish consensus in support of Israel. I write poetry to make some use of the vertigo I get from looking backward. I am interested in the problems of borders, nationalism, and home-making -- what can I make of the border spaces I inhabit? What new languages are spoken there?

Right after Oberlin, I spent a summer in Seattle making audio documentaries with Chana Joffe-Walt (OC '03) about queer-parented families; we called them Queerspawn Diaries. The problem we struggled with throughout - and what became the central question of the project - was the limited availability of language that could tell the stories of where we came from. We were interested in that lack: what did it force queer families to make up? What was the connection between making up words and making up kinship?

I moved back to my hometown of Philadelphia after that, where - among other things - I taught poetry and literature through local community arts organizations and served as assistant editor at American Poetry Review. I spent 2006-2007 working on my poetry in Philadelphia as a Pew Fellow in the Arts.

Now I'm an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Michigan, where I'm currently teaching creative writing to undergraduates. I am working on my first poetry manuscript, as well as a book of personal narrative essays in which autobiography is a lens for cultural analysis about Zionism. I've been honored and lucky to be supported in my work - even after leaving Oberlin -- by many Oberlin faculty members; by the Academy of American Poets, which awarded me prizes in 2004 and in 2009; by the Ragdale Foundation; and by the University of Michigan's creative writing program, which - in addition to supporting two years of writing - funded my trip to Palestine last summer so that I could continue to work on essays and poems about my own history there as I learned about current resistance movements.

As I continue to write and teach, I hope that my work can intervene in public conversations that are often circumscribed by muddle, jargon, and a sense of hopelessness; that I can project a voice that is by turns and in combination joyful, critical, and precise. I hope that my poems can be part of building vision and possibility among writers; and that my writing can also be a tool among activists as we seek vocabularies with which to articulate transformative visions. I hope that in making careful, passionate choices in my poetry, I am part of changing what Audre Lorde called "the quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives."

[For more information or to contact Nava, visit]



Troubling the Body Count

1 Out of Which a Noise Came

Nothing on television answered
even one

in the series of questions: who was left
standing, and how

were they arranged? Who will reassemble
the limbs and fingers

we have on file, boxed
and waiting?

Better not -

2 With Whom I Was in Love While I Was in Love with You

Did I conduct the electricity or just
describe it? I remember

a series of bodies pitted against mine.
I don't remember who invited them,

or what the arc of consent was.
The echo of it, the yes in stereo, the magnets

behind our breastbones.
The keys in our palms.

The backs of whose knees hummed - I wanted
that shoulder in my mouth
the way I held yours; and it was small, and fit there.

3 In Which We Believe

The last day.
A series of last days:

Whose gesture is it?

The sky,
reliable for so long, ripped open.


Published in FIELD, #79, Fall 2008