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Gjekë Marinaj, PhD, MA (1,950 words)

Dr. Gjekë Marinaj is an Albanian-American poet, writer, world literature scholar and translator, and literary critic, whose commitments as a 21st century world poet have inspired frequent comparisons with Pablo Neruda’s role in the 20th century.

As a philosopher and critic, Marinaj is the founder of Protonism Theory, a form of arts criticism that aims to promote peace and positive thinking. He has published more than twenty-five books of poetry, journalism, literary criticism and literary translation. His works have been translated and published in more than two dozen languages, including Amharic (Ethiopia), Azerbaijani, Bengali, French, German, Italian, Korean, Lao, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Uzbek and Vietnamese. His books, awards and honors reflect active collaborations with diverse world writers and their native cultures.

Marinaj holds the title of Nation’s Ambassador, Albania’s highest cultural honor. He is the author of a central text, the 1990 “Horses,” in Albania’s political and social evolution, with his emigration prompted by the unofficial popularity of and concurrent official backlash against the poem. In post-Communist Albania and its diaspora, he has received the Society of Albanian-American Writers’ Golden Pen Award (2003); the Pjetër Arbnori Prize (2008), awarded annually by QNK, part of the Albanian Ministry of Culture, to an Albanian or international author in recognition of their ongoing contribution to national and world literature; the Albanian BookerMan Prize for Literature (2011), awarded by the National Media Group of Tirana, Albania, for the literary theory book Protonism: Theory Into Practice; and Malësi e Madhe’s Honorary Citizen Award (2021).

Awards received by Marinaj internationally include, in the U.S., the Sojurin Prize (first place, 2006); South Korea’s Suwon KS International Literature Prize (2020) and Changwon KC International Literary Prize (2021); two National Insignia Prizes (2015, 2019) from the Vietnam Writers’ Association, with a special citation “for the cause of Vietnam’s Literature and Arts”; in Italy, the International Author Prize (2019); in Uzbekistan, the Poet of the World Prize (2020); and in India, several major recognitions: West Bengal’s World Poet Prize (2019); an International Society for Intercultural Studies and Research felicitation (2019), delivered at the World Thinkers and Writers Peace Meet on Planetary Crisis and Human Liberation in Kolkata, India — honoring his quest for peace through literature, as well as his literary cultivation of universality and harmony — and a Salutation to the World Poet prize (2020) from the Underground Literature Movement and the Platform Literary Journal, awarded for maintaining cultural world traditions of literature. He has received multiple nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Collections of Marinaj’s poetry include Do Not Depart From Me (Tirana, Albania: Writers’ League Publishing House, 1995), Infinite (Dallas: BMC Books, 2000), Prayer on the Eighth Day of the Week (Prishtina, Kosovo: Faik Konica, 2008), Prisoner of Absence (Bucharest, Romania: Primavera, 2013), I Come to Leaf Out (Belgrade, Serbia: Prosveta, 2014), Translucent Hopes (Hanoi, Vietnam: Writers’ Association Publishing House, 2014), Bleeding Willows (Hanoi, Vietnam: Writers’ Association Publishing House, 2016), 24 Hours of Love (Baku, Azerbajan: Seirlar, 2018), Page 46 (Tashkent, Uzbekistan. ISTIQLOL, 2020), Sketches in Imagination (Bari, Italy: SECOP Edizioni, 2019), Confessions of the Sea (Vientiane, Laos, 2020), Humanizing Venus (Kolkata, India. Underground Literature, 2020), With Neruda on the Atlantic Shore (Seoul, South Korea, 2020) and An Ell Above the Clouds (Ethiopia, 2022).

Marinaj’s prose works include the interviews in The Other Side of the Mirror (Dallas: BMC Books, 2003), the selected articles and essays in Some Things Can’t Be Kept Secret (New York, London: Adriatic Press, 2007), the literary criticism in Protonizmi: Nga Teoria Në Praktikë (Protonism: Theory into Practice. Shtëpia Botuese Nacional, 2011) and the literary ethnography in Sung Across the Shoulder: Heroic Poetry of Illyria (Mundus Artium Press, 2011) and Oral Poetry in Albanian and Other Balkan Cultures: Translating the Labyrinths of Untranslatability (UMI, 2012; Pro Quest, Michigan, USA 2020). His Inkshed: A poet’s view on the Vietnam War (Orpheus Texts, Oklahoma, 2020) combines essays and poetry to explore the potential of literature for cultural resilience and peacemaking.

Marinaj’s published books of translation into Albanian include An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry (Tirana: Nacional Books, 2006); Rainer Schulte’s The Hour of Peace (Dallas, Tirana: BMC Books, 2005); Frederick Turner’s Plato’s Cave (Dallas, Frankfurt, Tirana: BMC Books, 2006) and The Undiscovered Country: Sonnets of a Wayfarer (Tirana: Nacional, 2011); Vowels in the Dew, selected poems by Mai Văn Phấn (Tirana: Botimet B&M; Hanoi: Writers’ Association Publishing House, both 2014); and Ho Chi Minh’s Chess Lessons: Poetry from the Prison Diary (Oklahoma: Orpheus Texts, 2015), in support of which he has performed cultural diplomacy in the People’s Republic of Vietnam.

Translating from Albanian into English, Marinaj has also published Occurrence on Earth, selected poems by poet, journalist and politician Preç Zogaj (Richardson: Mundus Artium Press, 2011), as well as the oral epic poetry presented in Sung Across the Shoulder: Heroic Poems of Illyria, co-translated with Frederick Turner. His studies of Zogaj include multiple critical articles and a Master’s thesis.

Marinaj has served as a guest editor for Translation Review and as editor-in-chief for Pena International. He was the first president of the Society of Albanian-American Writers. He has chaired Albanian-based Kuvendi journal’s annual literature week poetry and prose competitions and Mundus Artium Press’s annual Gjenima Prize for Literature given to an American or international author or poet for lifetime achievement. Blue Tooth magazine has recognized him as one of the seven most important Albanian-Americans.

As a poet, critic and philosopher, Marinaj has given numerous professional presentations in the United States, Albania, Italy, India, China, South Korea, Vietnam, Mexico, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Ireland, the United Kingdom and other nations. He is a frequent participant in media interviews focused on culture and society.

Marinaj is the director of Mundus Artium Press, a non-profit independent world literature publisher founded in 1967 at Ohio University. The press currently has offices in the Erik Jonsson Academic Center at the University of Texas at Dallas, as well as in Clayton, Oklahoma. He is also the editor of Mundus Artium (a Journal of International Literature and the Arts).

He teaches English and Communications, including world literature, at Richland College in Dallas. An American citizen, Marinaj lives with his wife Dusita in Richardson, Texas.

Marinaj holds a PhD in Humanities with a concentration in Studies in Literature and Literary Translation, a Master of Arts in Humanities with a concentration in Studies in World Literature, and a Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, in Literary Studies from University of Texas at Dallas. He received a certification from the university’s Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies, and an Associate degree in Arts and Science from Brookhaven College.

Marinaj is the subject of scholarly works including Senada Demushi’s Shtigjeve letrare të Gjekë Marinaj (The Literary Paths of Gjeke Marinaj. Tirana: Botimet Nacional, 2016), Adnan Mehmeti’s Gjekë Marinaj, me shume se poet (Gjeke Marinaj, More Than a Poet. New York, London: Adriatic Press, 2007) and Dr. Ramesh Mukhopadhyaya’s Hidden in the Light of Thought: 22 of Gjeke Marinaj’s Poems Decoded (Oklahoma: Orpheus Texts, 2019).

Marinaj’s poetry and literary theories receive strong emphasis in Shefqet Dibrani’s Libra dhe mbresa (Books and Impressions. Switzerland: Albanisches Institut, 2005), Mikel Gojani’s traditë dhe bashkëkohësi (Tradition and the Contemporary. Kosovo, 2007), Dr. Afrim A. Rexhepi’s Aisthesis: studime nga estetika (Aesthesis: Studies in Aesthetics. Shkup, 2013), Mimoza Rexhvelaj’s Vështrim mbi Poezinë e Diasporës (Overview of Diaspora Poetry. Shkoder, 2013), Anton Gojçaj’s Biblioteka e hirushes (Cinderella Library. USA: Art Club, 2011), Mai Văn Phấn’s Không Gian Khâc (Other Space. Hanoi, Vietnam: Writers’ Association Publishing House, 2016), Besim Muhadri’s Esencat e mendimit letrar (Essences of Literary Thought. New York, London: Adriatic Press, 2020) and Giovanni Romano’s Poesia: L’ivincibile Presente (Poetry: The Invincible Present. Bari, Italy: SECOP Edizioni, 2020). South Korea’s Loving Poetry magazine dedicated 85 pages of a 2021 issue to Marinaj’s work.

Marinaj’s studies Sung Across the Shoulder and Oral Poetry in Albanian and Other Balkan Cultures, pioneering for this body of Albanian literature, draw heavily on his personal ethnographic research, which has preserved the words and performances of many Albanian oral poets for posterity. In his works on traditional Albanian culture, Marinaj examines oral epic poets and performers in their linguistic, historical, geographical, cultural, social and aesthetic contexts. He analyzes the problems of translating oral poetry and reconstructs the translation process. Confronting grammatical and syntactical limitations and difficulties in finding English equivalents for Albanian poetry’s linguistic, rhythmic, cultural and stylistic features, his translations attempt to replicate the meter, rhythm, rhyme and sounds of the original Albanian texts.

Marinaj has outlined his original philosophy Protonism Theory in the book Protonism: Theory into Practice, as well as in other publications and lectures. Central to Marinaj’s pluralistic cultural vision, the theory has been integrated into the curriculums of European and Asian universities. The Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China has made a Protonism Theory a part of its graduate academic programs. Marinaj’s lecture “Protonism Theory: An Aid For Improving the Social Function of Literature,” first delivered in October 2021 at South Korea’s Dankook University and initially published in Korean, has since been published in multiple world languages.

As defined by Marinaj, Protonism denotes a recommended method for the practice of literary criticism, with metaphysical and epistemological implications. In contrast to traditional literary criticism, which tends to analyze and evaluate literary art based on principles adopted by a given ideology at a given time, the Protonist critic seeks texts’ aesthetic, intellectual and moral value on their own terms. While noting the concept’s relevance in the Balkan context, where literary criticism has often become a detrimentally political, sectarian, or ideological weapon, Marinaj emphasizes Protonism’s general applicability to critical practice and theory internationally and across artistic disciplines.

The term Protonism is a metaphor drawn from the physics of the atom: instead of dwelling on the volatile, lightweight and negative electron, the Protonist critic attends to the enduring, weighty and positive proton. Marinaj’s Protonism theory comprises five central principles: protonismiotics, restitution, inquiry, truth and ethics. The theory defines protismiotics as an intelligent synthesis of positively directed pragmatics, semantics and syntactics, rooted in language and its various linguistic extensions.

Albanian novelist, poet, essayist and playwright Ismail Kadare (International Booker Prize, 2005) calls Marinaj “one of the most distinguished Albanian poets of our time” and “among Europe’s best poets.”

American poet Frederick Turner notes that Marinaj “show us a way of seeing the world… that reveals how very much we are still in the first hopeful dawn of human civilization.”

Azerbaijani literary critic and journalist Kənan Hacının writes that “Marinaj is reminiscent of Pablo Neruda, one of the world’s greatest poets…revealing all the visible and invisible aspects of space….. Parallel lines in Marinaj’s texts eventually intersect at one point and thus find their own artistic solution.”

Brent Flynn, in The Dallas Morning News, writes, “Gjekë Marinaj understands the illuminating power of the written word in a nation that wishes to be free. His commitment to writing was born out of a harrowing personal tale of dissent and retribution.”

Albanian poet, journalist and politician Preç Zogaj calls Marinaj’s Protonism “a very useful theory, especially for encouraging young writers and artists.”

Writing for Italy’s Da Bitonto, Rosanna Procacci notes that Protonism Theory, “applied to politics, to social life, to the education of the younger generations, can create an extraordinarily beautiful and important revolution, because where there is life there is beauty, where there is beauty there is poetry, and where there is poetry there is freedom, and freedom is the engine of human positivity.”

Charlotte Karam, writing for Translator, calls Marinaj an “Albanian-American icon” and a “poetic genius… With a mere pen, this one person has done more for Albanian society than any politician has ever dreamed of doing. Watch him grow.”

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