Faisal Mohyuddin

Faisal Mohyuddin

Award-winning Writer, Educator, Artist

By Julie Deardorff

Faisal Mohyuddin (MSEd03) was wrestling with how to craft his reflective essay for Instructor Peg Kritzler’s practicum class. Finally, he sat down and penned a three-part poem for his final paper called “On the First Day of Student Teaching.”

The “essay,” which later appeared in English Journal, became Mohyuddin’s first published poem and set the stage for his blossoming career which blends two related passions: poetry and teaching. His debut full-length collection of poems, The Displaced Children of Displaced Children, won the 2017 Sexton Prize for Poetry and earned a recommendation by the Poetry Book Society, England’s most prestigious poetry institution.

In her final citation, renowned poet and Sexton Prize judge Kimiko Hahn lauded both the subject matter and the variety of tones and concerns in Mohyuddin’s work, which explores grief, separation, Islamophobia, and what it means to be displaced. The child of immigrants from Pakistan, Mohyuddin imagines his parents’ lives during the upheaval, war, and violence surrounding the 1947 independence of Pakistan, and the murder of his grandfather a decade later.

“To be sure, the title refers to diaspora and the poems refer to families in and immigrants from Pakistan,” Hahn writes. “There are literal landscapes and clear memories to be enjoyed.

“And yet, because these poems are so well crafted and the emotion so well expressed, the subject matter is overtaken by such themes as boundary, legacy, loss, claim. Whether a long narrative poem, or shorter lyric poems, these are the works of a poet, mature in his concerns and thinking.”

Mohyuddin, an English teacher at Highland Park High School in the Chicago suburbs and a visual artist, first realized he could combine two professions he loves after taking the class Foundations of Writing Processes with SESP instructor Dagny Bloland.

“I learned that anyone teaching writing has to be a writer himself,” says Mohyuddin, who dedicated his first published poem to Bloland, Kritzler, and the students of Whitney Young High School in Chicago, where he completed his student teaching. “We had to write every week in the class. I thought, this is perfect— I can work with young people and write. I can do both.”

In fact, teaching is what often fuels his inner drive to write. “Teaching keeps me engaged in the world of writing and literature,” he says. “When it’s coupled with the vibrancy of young people’s voices and own stories, it keeps me inspired.”

In the classroom, Mohyuddin strives to be as creative as he is on the page, using tools like social media to prompt analytical thinking and writing. As part of his Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms fellowship from the U.S. Department of State, which involved preparing students to recognize different points of view, he asked his class to create Twitter handles and tweets for characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

The teens also researched and dreamed up ways the play could be produced in other cultures and time periods, including Germany in the 1940s and present-day South Korea.

Once, on a dare from a teaching colleague, he penned a poem about an epically lonely banana that had been “left behind / in the gathering darkness / of the school copy room.”

“The Forgotten Banana,” told from the melancholy perspective of the fruit, became an instant classic at school. Mohyuddin even included it in The Displaced Children of Displaced Children, and critics have praised his range of expression, calling his body of work “lush, urgent and at times funny.”

Most recently, Mohyuddin’s work was honored as a “highly commended” book of the year by the Forward Arts Foundation in the U.K. He credits his parents—and his experiences learning how to teach writing—for helping him see the world through a variety of perspectives.

“And at Northwestern I learned that you have to be who you are as a teacher,” he says. “If you dance, be the teacher who dances. If you are a writer, be the teacher who writes.”