The Janet Weis Fellow in Contemporary Letters

Peter Balakian speaking

The Janet Weis Fellow in Contemporary Letters honors and recognizes individuals who represent the highest level of achievement in the craft of writing within the realms of fiction, non-fiction or biography. The award is presented every two years. Until 2011, it was presented annually.

The Weis Fellowship was established in 2002 through a grant from the Degenstein Foundation in honor of Janet Weis, an author, civic leader and philanthropist as well as trustee emerita of the University. Her husband, Sigfried Weis, was chair of the Bucknell Board of Trustees from 1982 to 1988.

The 13th Janet Weis Fellow, Peter Balakian ’73

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Peter Balakian '73 is the 13th Janet Weis Fellow in Contemporary Letters at Bucknell University and the first Bucknell graduate to receive the honor.

Balakian is the Donald M. and Constance H. Rebar Professor of the Humanities in the Department of English and director of creative writing at Colgate University. He accepted the Weis award during a ceremony on April 5, 2017, in Bucknell Hall.

The author of seven books of poems, Balakian won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for his most recent collection, Ozone Journal (2016, University of Chicago Press). In the announcement, the Pulitzer committee said the poems in the collection “bear witness to the old losses and tragedies that undergird a global age of danger and uncertainty.”

For more than four decades Balakian's poems have engaged a wide range of social, cultural and political realities including genocide, war, terrorism, climate change, the AIDS epidemic and historical trauma. His poems also probe the personal and meditative realities of love, death, art and culture, and the intersections between epic traumatic events and the private self.

Balakian's four books of prose include The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response (2004), which won the 2005 Raphael Lemkin Prize and was a New York Times Notable Book and a New York Times best seller. His memoir, Black Dog of Fate, won the 1998 PEN/Martha Albrand Prize for the Art of the Memoir, was named a best book of the year by The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and Publisher's Weekly, and was recently issued in a 10th-anniversary edition. He is co-translator of Girgoris Balakian's Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide 1915-1918 (Knopf, 2009), which was a Washington Post book of the year.

He is also the author of a book on the American poet Theodore Roethke and the co-translator of the Armenian poet Siamanto's Bloody News From My Friend. Between 1976 and 1996 he edited with Bruce Smith the poetry journal Graham House Review.

He is the recipient of many awards and prizes including the Presidential Medal and the Moves Khoranatsi Medal from the Republic of Armenia; the Spendlove Prize for Social Justice, Tolerance and Diplomacy; a Guggenheim Fellowship; a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship; and the Emily Clark Balch Prize for poetry from the Virginia Quarterly Review.

Balakian has appeared widely on national television and radio, including 60 Minutes, ABC World News Tonight and NPR's Fresh Air.

He has taught at Colgate since 1980 and was the first director of the university's Center For Ethics and World Societies.

Previous Recipients

  • Elizabeth Kolbert (2015)
  • Rita Dove (2013)
  • Robert A. Caro (2011)
  • Edward Albee (2010)
  • John Edgar Wideman (2009)
  • David McCullough (2008)
  • Derek Walcott (2007)
  • Joyce Carol Oates (2006)
  • Tom Wolfe (2005)
  • Salman Rushdie (2004)
  • John Updike (2003)
  • Toni Morrison (2002)