April 19, 2016, BY Paula Cogan Myers

Peter Balakian '73

Bucknell graduate Peter Balakian, Class of 1973, has won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for his collection Ozone Journal, published last year by the 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."

Balakian's seventh book of poetry, Ozone Journal relates the memory of his 2009 experience in Syria, where he traveled as part of a team to excavate the bones of Armenian genocide victims. "In the dynamic, sensual language of these poems, we are reminded that the history of atrocity, trauma and forgetting is both global and ancient," the prize committee said. "But we are reminded, too, of the beauty and richness of culture and the resilience of love."

For over 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. 

"I began my life as a poet as an undergraduate at Bucknell during my sophomore and junior years in 1971–72," Balakian said. "I studied with my mentor and then great friend Professor Jack Wheatcroft, an inspirational and brilliant teacher and an amazingly versatile writer. It's been an interesting journey and Lewisburg and Bucknell are dear to it." Balakian visited campus in October 2015 to honor and share his reflections on Wheatcroft's career.    

Professor of English and Director of the Stadler Center for Poetry Shara McCallum has known Balakian since she joined the University in 2003. "I'm delighted to see the Pulitzer awarded to a book whose ethical and aesthetic achievements, both, make it so richly deserving of this prize," she said. "I'm equally delighted to see attention for Balakian, its author, who has for so long worked to bring attention to the Armenian genocide in the highest of literary terms and in the most finely wrought language, across genres and especially in poetry." 

Balakian is the second Bucknell alumnus to win a Pulitzer. Philip Roth '54 won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel American Pastoral in 1998. Bucknell has hosted poets and writers through the Philip Roth Residency in Creative Writing since 1993.  

4/22/16 This story has been edited to include a quote from Peter Balakian.