Poet and Author Aimee Nezhukumatathil Gives Presentation as Isham Fellow

Students line up to have their book signed by 2024 Isham Fellow Aimee Nezkhumatathil.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil, the 2024 Isham Fellow in Poetry, came to campus to give a reading of her works, followed by a question and answer segment and a book signing on May 17. Nezhukumatathil, who has published four poetry collections and numerous books, is a professor of English in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program. Her works are currently being taught in many English classes at Andover.

The Isham Fellowship, established in memory of former student Sandra Isham, brings poets to campus so they can share their work with Andover. The selection of an Isham Fellow in Poetry is spearheaded by Kathryn McQuade, Assistant Chair of the English Department, but decided on collectively by the whole department. Leon Calleja, Chair of the English Department, spoke on why the department chose Nezhukumatathil.
“We wanted poets who engage with students with great positivity and a sense of wonder for the world. Her book, ‘World of Wonders,’ was something that intrigued many of us initially, and it’s being taught a lot this year across the curriculum. Just the sensitivity she has in thinking about the world is something we really want our students to see. We think it would be great for them to learn from her example,” said Calleja.
Students appreciated Nezhukumatathil’s work for its candor, optimism, and juxtaposition of vivid adjectives. One aspect that stood out to Alina Chen ’27 was the unconventional way Nezhukumatathil linked multiple seemingly unrelated topics and personal anecdotes together in explaining complicated concepts.

“She has this format where she sometimes makes these connections between very disparate topics, [like] nature or certain organisms, and she’ll just start listing these facts about them. But she does so in a very deliberate manner, and she actually manages to tell her own personal narratives through it. For example… she made this connection between axolotls’ regenerative abilities, since they’re able to regenerate their limbs if they’re cut off, and she compares that with how people of color are sometimes expected to forgive and forget countless instances of prejudice and discrimination,” said Chen.
Many attendees appreciated the structure of the event, noting Nezhukumatathil’s ability to showcase her versatile writing, keep the audience engaged, and provide insightful answers during the Q&A. Sebastian Cynn ’24 elaborated on how Nezhukumatathil’s responses during the Q&A added context to the variety of work she chose to showcase.

“Nezhukumatathil has such a wide-ranging span of work, where she’s not just a poet, where she’s not just an essayist, but where she does both, and she does the hybrid of all of the above. I really liked the fact that we got to hear both sides of that come out [when] she read three of her poems, and she also read one of her essays. That felt really complete to me, in a way… She was able to tell us things afterwards in the Q&A, where she said how much of her book, ‘World of Wonders,’ was written in the form of bedtime stories for her kids, which almost put the rest of the talk into a different kind of context,” said Cynn.
Nneka Ezeike ’26 mentioned how Nezhukumatathil’s presence during the reading inspired her to take advantage of her time at Andover and opportunities to meet contemporary writers in person. She talked about previous instances where she was able to speak with such writers.

“I didn’t really expect to like her work as much as I did, and it was a great way to expose students to new writers by having them come in person… I got the chance to meet Angie Thomas as well from the [All-School Meeting] before, and that was also a really nice experience. So the fact that we have the ability to see these amazing writers and interact with them on a different level is really cool and has made me more appreciative of the resources that Andover has provided us with. I think it’s inspired me to take charge of those resources more often and to use them,” said Ezeike.

Nezhukumatathil reiterated the importance of writing and optimism throughout the reading. Jasjit Hargun ’27 spoke on how after doing a vignette project in his English class, he’d been considering writing more as a way to express his feelings. He noted how Ms. Nezhukumatathil’s advice made him resolve to continue writing in order to feel a sense of optimism.

“What she said kind of made it solid in my mind, but I’m going to keep writing over the summer. Also she pointed out something that a lot of us think we know, but we ignore: that even with all the bad in the world, you can still focus on the good. You can still change the bad, but you don’t have to be constantly thinking about it and letting it get you down. You can take a break and look at the good in the world sometimes,” said Hargun.