Sheera Talpaz to Study Poets of Israel and Palestine as Fulbright U.S. Scholar

Oberlin professor’s research will culminate in a book on national poets of the conflict-riddled region.

July 10, 2023

Kate Kaput

Sheera Talpaz.
Photo credit: courtesy of Sheera Talpaz

Sheera Talpaz, an assistant professor of comparative literature and Jewish studies at Oberlin, will spend the 2023-24 academic year in Israel and Palestine as a Fulbright U.S. Scholar. Her research there will support the completion of a forthcoming book on national poets of the region.

Talpaz, who earned a PhD in comparative literature from Princeton University, specializes in modern Hebrew and Arabic literatures with a focus on the intersection of politics, poetry, and literary reception. As part of Fulbright’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Research Program, she will study the phenomenon of the national poet in Jewish/Israeli and Palestinian literature and culture.

Through her research, she seeks to define the concept of the national poet and include close looks at the works and reception of poets like Yehuda Amichai, Mahmoud Darwish, and Haim Nahman Bialik, as well as the marginalization of female poets like Fadwa Touqan and Esther Raab.

“Although these poets have been discussed and written about extensively, the ideas or phenomena of the ‘national poet’ and ‘national poetry’ have not been adequately defined or comprehensively historicized to account for national poetry in Hebrew/Israeli and Palestinian cultures and literatures,” she says.

It’s important to me to bring major Hebrew- and Arabic-language poets into conversation with each other rather than keeping literatures and cultures siloed.”

Talpaz was raised in a bilingual English- and Hebrew-speaking home and began studying Hebrew poetry as a teenager. Years later, while pursuing her Master of Fine Arts at the University of Michigan, she was introduced to the works of Palestinian poets and began learning Arabic. The experience ultimately compelled her to immerse herself in the study of comparative literature, kicking off a decade of research on the concept of the national poet.

“I wanted to understand how poets and poetry came to matter and what kinds of social and political functions they served, since there seemed to be a connection between political crisis and the popularity of poetry,” she says. “It’s important to me to bring major Hebrew- and Arabic-language poets into conversation with each other rather than keeping literatures and cultures siloed.”

Talpaz plans to spend two months this fall living in Israel and conducting research at Tel-Aviv University, followed by two months in the Palestinian territories, where she seeks institutional affiliation at Al-Quds University. The time abroad offers critical access to archives and other materials that will fill in gaps in her research, allowing her to complete the final chapter of her manuscript. She hopes to secure a contract for the book, tentatively titled Resistance and Reluctance: On the ‘National Poets’ of Palestine/Israel, by spring 2024.

“Ultimately,” she says, “I’m aiming at a comprehensive view of this phenomenon because I couldn’t find what I was looking for when I learned about it and because there are so many elements about it that fascinate me.”

The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program provides opportunities for college and university faculty and other professionals to teach, conduct research, and pursue specialized projects in more than 135 countries. A program of the U.S. Department of State, it seeks to strengthen and expand relationships between the U.S. and other nations. The program boasts more than 400,000 distinguished alumni, including 89 Pulitzer Prize winners, 62 Nobel Prize Laureates, 78 MacArthur Foundation Fellows, and thousands of leaders spanning the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.

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