Indran Amirthanayagam

Poet, Diplomat
Born 1960, Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
Lives in Rockville, MD

Photo by Val Loh.


Indran Amirthanayagam is a poet and diplomat who writes poetry in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole. His work addresses universal themes of human suffering and resilience and uses language to dissolve barriers between different cultures, races, and people of varying socioeconomic status.

Amirthanayagam has published seventeen collections of works, including The Migrant States (Hanging Loose Press, 2020); Coconuts on Mars (Paperwall Media & Publishing Pvt.Ltd., 2019); En busca de posada (Editorial Apogeo, 2019); Paolo 9 (Manofalsa, 2019); Uncivil War (Tsar/Mawenzi House, 2013), which tells the history of the Sri Lankan Civil War; The Splintered Face: Tsunami Poems (Hanging Loose Press, 2008), which appeared in the wake of the Asian Tsunami of 2004; and The Elephants of Reckoning (Hanging Loose Press, 1993), which won the 1994 Paterson Prize. His other books include Il n'est de solitude que l'île lointaine (Legs Editions, 2017) and Ventana Azul (El Tapiz del Unicornio, 2016). Amirthanayagam also works in music and has released the album Rankont Dout (2018).

He is a past recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony (1992), the New York Foundation for the Arts (1993), and The U.S.-Mexico Fund for Culture (2000).

Amirthanayagam directs Poetry at the Port, a monthly spoken word series at Port Au Prince restaurant in Silver Spring, Maryland. He also writes a weekly column featuring poems for the newspaper Haiti En Marche. Amirthanayagam holds a B.A. from Haverford College and an M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University.

Artist Statement

Migrants are on the move, while our Earth is staggering, roiling and rolling, drunk on human breath. We are living in the middle of the Emergency and some of us will not be able to escape. The seas rise and boil. Brush fires move at a lightning clip. Heavy, sooty swats of Delhi air penetrate masks and decorum, silting lungs with a slow accumulation of poisons—as if our lungs, the breathing tubes, the bellows of our lives, have become a burial pit, the sand thrown in. So, what does the Migrant state?

We need open borders everywhere, borders of the mind, of languages. We need to cross over at ports of entry with our dances, tongues, poems and gods. So, pack your bag for the trip. I invite you to put my poems in an outer pouch, easy to grab and show at Customs.

In my words, Sir, there are no vegetable products, no animal residues, no contraband. They are here to wake up essences, dreams, memories; to tell stories of where people come from, and the disputes, struggles, successes they encounter along the way.

December 2019