Antoon, Sinan (1967–)

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Antoon, Sinan

Sinan Antoon (also Antun) is an Iraqi-born academic, poet, translator, and filmmaker.


Born in 1967 in Baghdad to an Iraqi father and an American mother, Antoon completed his B.A. in English literature at Baghdad University in 1990. He left Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, and moved to the United States. He completed a M.A. in Arab studies from Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies in 1995, and a Ph.D. in Arabic literature at Harvard University in 2006. He has taught at Dartmouth College, Indiana University, Harvard University, and Middlebury College. Since 2005, Antoon has been teaching at New York University's Gallatin School.

Long a critic of saddam hussein's regime, before and after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Antoon assumed a public position at odds with that of pro-war Iraqis in the diaspora. Antoon's academic work focuses on pre-modern Arab and Islamic culture, and on contemporary Arab culture and politics. His poetry has been published in both Arabic and English forums, including The Nation, Middle East Report, al-Ahram Weekly, Banipal, the Journal of Palestine Studies, al-Safir, al-Nahar, and al-Adab, among others. He was one of a collective of filmmakers to produce the 2004 documentary About Baghdad, shot shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.


Antoon's contributions have been made in several areas. He is a senior editor for Arab Studies Journal, a member of PEN America, a contributing editor to Banipal (a magazine of Arabic literature in English translation) and a member of the editorial committee of Middle East Report. Antoon has published articles in Middle East Report, al-Ahram Weekly, and other English- and Arabic-language publications. His stand against the U.S. invasion of Iraq put him at odds with a number of other Iraqi public intellectuals in the diaspora, foremost among them being Kanan Makiya, the darling of American supporters of the war, about whom Antoon penned an article published in The Nation before the 2003 invasion.

Antoon's poetry has been anthologized in the volume Iraqi Poetry Today (Modern Poetry in Translation, 2002) and has appeared in Banipal as well. He has also contributed numerous translations of Arabic poetry into English. He co-translated a selection of Palestinian poet mahmud darwish's work, published under the title Unfortunately it was Paradise, and was nominated for a PEN Prize for the translation. In Arabic, he has published a collection of his own poems, Mawshur Muballal bi'l-Hurub (A Prism; Wet with Wars), the English translation of which, Baghdad Blues, was published in the United States in 2007. He also published a novel, I'jaam (Diacritics), which came out in English in 2007 as I'jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody.


Antoon's writing has been praised by some of the best-known Arab writers in the early twenty-first century. Noted Lebanese author elias khoury extolled Antoon's novel I'jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody, stating:

In this beautiful and brilliant novel, Sinan Antoon expresses the voice of those whose voices were robbed by oppression, stressing the fact that literature can at times be the only framework to protect human experiences from falling into oblivion. I'jaam is an honest and exciting window onto Iraq, written with both love and bitter sarcasm, hope and despair. It does not only illuminate reality in Iraq prior to the American invasion, but also the human experience in its insistence on resisting oppression and injustice (


Name: Sinan Antoon (Autun)

Birth: 1967, Baghdad, Iraq

Family: Single

Nationality: Iraqi

Education: B.A., (English literature) Baghdad University, 1990; M.A., (Arab studies) Georgetown University, 1995; Ph.D., (Arabic literature) Harvard University, 2006


  • 1991: Leaves Iraq
  • 2001: Publishes Mawshur Muballal bi'l-Hurub; returns to Iraq for the first time since 1991, films About Baghdad; becomes one of the most prominent Iraqi expatriate anti-war commentators
  • 2003: Nominated for a PEN Prize for his co-translated volume of Mahmud Darwish's poetry; publishes I'jaam
  • 2005: Begins teaching at New York University's Gallatin School
  • 2007: Publishes I'jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody and Baghdad Blues

Antoon also has played an important, if somewhat marginalized, role in presenting an Iraqi voice against U.S. policy in Iraq within American public life. His wide range of creative and critical productions has reached different audiences in both the United States as well as in the Arab world. However, the film About Baghdad, on which he collaborated and in which he is featured, has brought him to the attention of different audiences. The New York Times's review of the film on 12 January 2005 stated, "'About Baghdad' manages to present a true diversity of opinion … [it is] emotionally and intellectually challenging." The film also won the award for best documentary at the Big Apple Film Festival in 2004 and appeared at numerous film festivals around the world that year.


Although Antoon's literary work and his participation in the documentary About Baghdad have both had significant audiences, his work as an academic may also prove to be just as influential to a developing understanding of contemporary Arab and Islamic culture.


"About Baghdad: An Exiled Iraqi Poet Returns Home To Witness the Effects of War, Sanctions and Occupation." Interview with Amy Goodman. Democracy Now. Available from

Antoon, Sinan. Baghdad Blues. Brownsville, Vermont: Harbor Mountain Press, 2007.

―――――――. I'jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2007.

―――――――. "Sinan Antoon." Available from

"Sinan Antoon: Seven poems." Available from

                                        Kamran Rastegar
                         updated by Michael R. Fischbach