Rafiq Kathwari wins Patrick Kavanaugh Poetry Award

Younger brother of Farooq Kathwari is also social entrepreneur.

By Deepak Chitnis

Photo courtesy of Rafiq Kathwari

WASHINGTON, DC: Indian American entrepreneur Rafiq Kathwari has become to first non-Irishman to receive the world-renowned Patrick Kavanaugh Poetry award.

Mostly known for his business acumen, Kathwari has been a freelance writer, photographer, and poet for over two decades. His most recent work, a collection of 20 poems entitled “In Another Country,” is what won him the award in a competitive field that included 110 total applicants.

Kathwari spends much of his time in Dublin, the Irish capital, and the rest of his time in New York City and Srinagar. His poetry is often characterized by a yearning for lost innocence, childhood, and the simpler times of youth. His poems also reflect some of the harsher aspects of growing up in a developing country, such as his 2011 poem “Sunday Bath,” which depicts him and his siblings – an older sister and younger brother – accidentally trapped in a coal-infested bathroom, inhaling toxic fumes while they tried to find a way out.

“[My sister] dragged herself to the door/on tip-toe to reach the latch, fell back,/slowly rose, her fingers clawing the pane./My kid brother collapsed/on the floor, his mouth an O./Are we playing dead?”

The Kathwari family, at the time, had six children: two daughters and four sons. Kathwari is the fifth child; only one of the brothers is younger to him. Kathwari’s immediate older brother is Farooq Kathwari, the current Chairman, President, and CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors, Inc. (EAI).

Despite the poverty of his poetry’s subject matter, Kathwari has risen above that to become, as his LinkedIn profile describes him, a “social entrepreneur [with] 30+ years [of] empowering artisans in South Asia.” He graduated from the University of Kashmir in 1969, eventually earning his Masters of Arts in Political and Social Science from New School University, in New York City. He then went to Columbia University for his Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, graduating in 2000.

His professional career began in 1975, when he started working at KEA (Kathwari Ethan Allen) International, an affiliated company of EAI. He was then with the company for 20 years, in various capacities; he was a Director of Merchandising with KEA, then with fellow affiliate IFO Enterprises. Following that, he was a General Manager at the company’s Design Center in Stamford, Connecticut during the early 1990s, and then became a consultant until 1995.

In September of 1995, he started The East India Company USA, a New York City-based “comprehensive design resource and importer of hand-embroidered fabric and coordinated soft goods from India.” Kathwari is still with the company, and is listed as its “Owner.”

Kathwari is fluent in English, Hindi, and Urdu. In addition to the Kavanaugh Award, he has received honors and awards from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York City, and the international Center of Photography, also in New York City. The Kavanaugh Award comes with prize money of 1,000 Euros.

[This story was updated on 10/3/13.]

To contact the author, email to deepakchitnis@americanbazaaronline.com

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