Faculty News

Bennington College Welcomes 2023 Ben Belitt Distinguished Visiting Writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri

Winston Foundation Grant funds Spring 2023 class and reading Wednesday, May 17

Image of Jonas Hassen Khemiri

The Literature discipline at Bennington College has received a grant from the Winston Foundation to fund a new class and reading from 2023 Ben Belitt Distinguished Visiting Writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri. The class, Writing a Life, is offered this term. A reading is scheduled for 7–8:30 pm on Wednesday, May 17, 2023, at Tishman Lecture Hall on the Bennington College Campus. Khemiri will read from his forthcoming novel The Sisters

The Sisters is my longest and most personal novel yet, and I'm writing it in two different languages (Swedish and English) simultaneously,” said Khemiri. “It's by far the most inefficient creative process that I have been a part of. But strangely enough, also the most enjoyable.

The book will appear in Europe first, starting with the Swedish edition in September 2023. The reading at Bennington is only the second Khemiri has given of the new work. The first was at New York University in Paris in January. He will discuss the process of writing the same story in two languages and reveal surprising insights regarding how language and culture affect storytelling. 

“Experimentation is the lodestar for the Bennington writer,” said award-winning novelist and Bennington College Faculty member Benjamin Anastas. “And Jonas is absolutely fearless as a novelist and playwright—there are moments in his work that break every narrative rule: reality and fiction, death and resurrection. I get the feeling his class ‘Writing a Life’ is already passing into legend, like the class Mary Ruefle taught as the first Ben Belitt Distinguished Visiting Writer last year.” 

The Sisters introduces Ina, Anastasia, and Evelyn—known as The Mikkola Sisters. They are beautiful, accomplished, and instantly captivating. In 1991, they burst into the life of a young Jonas Hassen Khemiri (whose personal memories of growing up intertwine with this story). Not only are the sisters the first other half-Tunisian children he has ever met, there is a mysterious connection between their mother and his own father, a man the young Jonas has never managed to please. Though the sisters disappear abruptly from view, his fascination will follow them over the ensuing decades.    

“The sisters are convinced that they are related to one of the men who built The Rockefeller Center,” Khemiri said. “They first appeared in Stockholm, when I needed them the most. When I moved to the United States in 2021, they followed me to my office at the New York Public Library. Lately, they have been seen sneaking around the CAPA Building on Bennington College’s campus.” 

Khemiri is the author of six novels, seven plays, and a collection of his plays, essays and short stories. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages, and his plays have been performed by more than a hundred international companies. 

He received the Village Voice’s Obie Award for his first play Invasion! and in 2015 his novel Everything I Don't Remember, received the August Prize, awarded to the best Swedish book of the year. 

In 2017, Khemiri became the first Swedish writer to have a short story published in The New Yorker, and in 2020 his latest novel, The Family Clause (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Prix Médicis Étranger, France’s highest literary honor for translated fiction.

Khemiri moved to New York City for a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library. In addition to teaching at Bennington College, he is currently teaching in the creative writing program at New York University and at the Bard Experiential Learning Lab in Brooklyn. He is also on Instagram

The Ben Belitt Distinguished Visiting Writer is supported with a grant from the Winston Foundation. The New York City-based foundation supports higher education, including medical education, as well as hospitals and cultural programs.

The 2023 Ben Belitt Distinguished Visiting Writer was named in memory of Ben Belitt, an American poet and translator who was a professor of comparative literature at Bennington for nearly fifty years. Belitt published eight books of poems, two books of essays, and numerous translations, notably of the Spanish-language poets Jorge Luis Borges, Federico García Lorca, and Pablo Neruda. This Scribe, My Hand, his complete poems, was published in 1998. The visitorship serves to enhance instruction at the college through programming that embodies the spirit of Belitt’s legacy as a poet, a literary translator, and an educator. 

About Literature at Bennington College

Bennington College’s alumni include twelve Pulitzer Prize winners, three U.S. poets laureate, four MacArthur Geniuses, and countless New York Times bestsellers and National Book Award recipients. 

Recent graduates have gone on to attend PhD and MFA programs in literature and creative writing at Stanford University, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, NYU, UVA, Columbia University, Cornell University, the University of Massachusetts, Arizona State, and Brown University. Graduates have had poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, journalism, and book reviews published or accepted by The Atlantic Wire, The Awl, Boston Review, Christian Science Monitor, Denver Quarterly, The Guardian, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Ploughshares.

Rooted in an abiding faith in the talent, imagination, and responsibility of the individual, Bennington invites students to pursue and shape their own intellectual inquiries, and in doing so to discover the profound interconnection of things. 

Bennington College is the proud home to Bennington Review, Bennington Writing Seminars MFA program, the Robert Frost Stone House Museum, and the Young Writers Awards.