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Poet and author Michael Wolfe has written what may be the two best books in English on Islam's biggest ritual: The Hadj (sometimes spelled Haj or Hajj), the great pilgrimage to Mecca that is occurring right now.
Wolfe's The Hadj: An American's Pilgrimage to Mecca is a beautifully-written personal account. And his follow-up One Thousand Roads to Mecca: Ten Centuries of Writing on the Muslim Pilgrimage collects twenty-three shorter pieces from Naser-e Khosraw (c. 1050) to such modern pilgrims as Malcolm X, Saida Miller Khaifa, and Wolfe himself.
If you're curious about Islam, a fan of great travel writing, or some combination thereof, you can't go wrong with these two books.
In this interview we discuss the pilgrimage, Mecca, some under-appreciated aspects of Islam and what brought Michael to convert...and finish by exchanging contrasting views on the "War on Terror."
Bio: Michael Wolfe was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, educated at Wesleyan University (Classics, 1968), and lives in Northern California. He is the author of eleven books of poetry, fiction, and travel. He has been a fellow at Bread Loaf Writers Conference and a guest at the MacDowell Colony. He held the Amy Lowell Traveling Poets Scholarship for three years while living in North and West Africa. In the 1970s and 1980s he owned and ran a bookstore and a book bindery and edited and published Tombouctou Books, Bolinas, CA, including titles by Paul Bowles, Mohammed Mrabet, Larbi Layachi, Jim Carroll, Dale Herd, Steve Emerson, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Lucia Berlin, Bill Berkson, Duncan McNaughton, Clark Coolidge, and many others.