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Image courtesy of Anam Akhter / Published: 10.1.20

Anam Akhter's New Poetry Book & Why Cincinnati's Her "First Real Home"

Anam Akhter is a DAAP grad who came to Cincinnati from New Delhi to pursue a degree in Architecture. Today, she lives in Washington DC, but she holds a special place in her heart for Cincinnati, even going so far as to say it's her first "real home." Her time spent attending UC inspired much of the content in her new book, The Woman I Met Everywhere—a collection of poetry accompanied by illustrations designed to be read and enjoyed in quick, two-minute sessions published by AuthorHouse.

We asked her about her time spent in Cincinnati, her inspiration for the poems in her book, how different and similar life is here as opposed to life in India, and we asked for her perspective as an architect on Cincinnati's vast collection of historic architecture.

A link to where you can purchase her book can be found at the bottom of the interview.

Cincinnati Refined: When did you move to Cincinnati to attend UC? When you lived here, what did you like about it?

Anam Akhter: I came to Cincinnati in 2016 to study MS in architecture at UC. That was right after completing my undergrad in architecture in India, so I was quite nervous and excited to be here. I really loved living in Cincinnati for many different reasons. My favorite spots were the riverside swings where I would sit with friends and enjoy the view across the Ohio river, and Burnet Woods, where I would often sit after a long day and reflect about my unending assignments. And the people are simply the best—always polite and warm with a smile!

CR: What made you want to attend UC’s DAAP program? How’d you like that program overall?

AA: DAAP is one of the best design schools in the entire country, and one of the most affordable, too. The MS Architecture program is great for someone like me who likes to read and write and research and design. I had teachers and classmates from all over the world—China, Germany, Australia, Bangladesh, Iran, France, Saudi Arabia, Kurdistan, Iraq, Nepal, Philippines, California (haha!)—and that sort of vibrancy makes it unique, especially for a subject like architecture.

The courses were taught by amazing faculty who are all experts in their field, and on top of it, the Co-Op office is extremely helpful. Students get a chance to work in the industry because of the extensive network with companies built by the office over the years.

CR: You mentioned you traveled from New Delhi to Cincinnati. What are their differences and similarities?

AA: The differences are immense! I would have never believed that you can have four seasons in the same week, and there you are, Cincinnati!

I remember feeling so surprised while walking around in the first few days; I felt like no one lived in Cincinnati—it was so quiet and peaceful. And then there was the FC Cincinnati game day and I thought, “there you are! All 30,000 people right here in the stadium, I believe!” No comparison to the population in the two cities, clearly.

But there are similarities, too. People are very welcoming and warm, and anyone living on the East coast will agree. Cincinnatians are very family and community-oriented, and they love their local businesses. That sense of local-ness and belonging is shared.

CR: How exactly did your time in Cincinnati and at DAAP influence your book?

AA: I had the privilege to meet some amazing people here and had profound experiences that inspired my work. For example, I wrote ‘The Clouds from Bangladesh’ because I was deeply moved by a friend’s longing for his home in Bangladesh, when they were actually more affected by the rains there rather than the similar downpour in Cincinnati (hence the line “Bangladesh, whose distant clouds could rain even here”).

The poem ‘Tired’ reflects the times when I used to sit down with fellow older classmates, who were doing a Ph.D. at UC, and talk about assignments and life. It’s based on vivid images of Classen Park and DAAP grounds in Fall—spectacular to look at!

I used to be a student worker in the College of Nursing, and so if you ever walk straight from the Short Vine Street all downhill towards the college, specifically on a grey snowy day, you can trace the route that stirred me to write ‘Stillness’. You’d find what I mean by “empty glittering squares and neon lights,” and if you come across the usual strangers on the street, you’d understand the “seconds worth of, “I’m good, how do you do.”

And then there are a couple of poems with strong emotional backgrounds, based on women. I met survivors whose stories broke my heart and compelled me to write ‘the Home of Crying Women.’ The other poem, ‘Blazing,’ was written when I was in great mental distress and literally felt my despair burning away in the “afternoon's blazing sun” while I sat on a bench in the Nippert Stadium.

CR: For those who haven’t read The Woman I Met Everywhere, how would you describe it to them? Who do you imagine will enjoy the book the most?

AA: It is a package for quick two-minute coffee bites, and a book for anyone—whether you are interested in technology or are against it, are a rich-and-poor-fundamentalist, a person concerned with immigration, a nine-to-five workaholic, or just a simple lover. Each of the 27 poems narrates a unique perspective and dilemma, and I’m certain that you will find yourself dispersed somewhere in these pages.

CR: What’s your personal favorite thing about the book?

AA: The graphics! I’m so happy with how gorgeous they look, and several people agree. The icon-style image at the end of each poem really completes it, and the word-clouds at the beginning of each section make a powerful and beautiful introduction. Poems always look great when on a printed creme paper, and with the breezy illustrations, it can’t get any better. So as a book, it is a complete package.

CR: You live in DC now, but you referenced Cincinnati as being “the city I call my home” in your original email. What makes Cincinnati “home” to you?

AA: Cincinnati is where I landed to start my life in the States; it houses my first home, my first routine path, my favorite places to eat (I still can’t find the injera bread and Awaze wings comparable to Elephant Walk anywhere in DC), and my lifelong friendships. I still visit at least once every year and make it a point to roam around Clifton, Burnet Woods, and OTR.

People say ‘home is a feeling,’ and I feel at home any time I stay in Cincinnati. That feeling will never go away.

CR: Your press release mentions you’re an architect. Cincinnati touts its collection of varying styles of architecture as one of its more unique traits as compared to other Midwestern cities of similar sizes. In your opinion, do you think Cincinnati has something to be proud of when it comes to its architecture, both new and old?

AA: Yes, absolutely. Cincinnati is an old and historic city. There are treasures everywhere in terms of buildings and architecture. Did you know that at the time of its opening, Fountain Square was called the best designed public square in the United States?

In my urban design classes, we studied Over-the-Rhine’s heritage extensively—the Black and German influences that ring out even today. And when you look at the network of interconnected parks, sometimes with hidden connections and trails, the architectural language around Washington Park, and UC’s own amazing collection of spectacular buildings each with their own architectural style and cohabiting in the campus without conflict, you feel irresistibly attracted to the place.

It’s a bit like Bordeaux—charming, quiet, historic, modern, and full of surprises and secrets. For an architect like me, I feel blessed to be here.

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The Woman I Met Everywhere is available online on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, and on AuthorHouse's website.