Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Peter Balakian '73 is the 13th Janet Weis Fellow in Contemporary Letters at Bucknell University, becoming 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 will accept the award during a ceremony on Thursday, April 5, at 7 p.m. in Bucknell Hall. After the presentation, Balakian will read from his poetry and memoir, and then engage in a moderated discussion with Bucknell Professor of English Harold Schweizer. A book-signing will follow. The event is free and open to the public.
PBS affiliate WVIA will also air a recording of Balakian's address at the following dates and times:
- Thursday, May 3, at 8 p.m.
- Friday, May 4, at 2 p.m.
- Sunday, May 6, at 1 p.m.
- Sunday, May 13, at 5 p.m.
- Thursday, May 17, at 9 p.m.
- Friday, May 18, at 3 p.m.
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."
Balakian's Ozone Journal explores, among other topics, the poet's memory of excavating. "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 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.
"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 is currently compiling a collection of memorial tribute essays in honor of Wheatcroft, a member of the Class of 1949, who passed away last March. The poet and author was a popular English professor at Bucknell from 1952 to 1996.
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, and was a best book of the year for 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.
Established in 2002, the Janet Weis Fellow in Contemporary Letters is awarded biennially to honor and recognize individuals who represent the highest level of achievement in the craft of writing within the realms of fiction, non-fiction or biography. Previous recipients have been Robert A. Caro, Edward Albee, John Edgar Wideman, David McCullough, Derek Walcott, Joyce Carol Oates, Tom Wolfe, Salman Rushdie, John Updike, Toni Morrison and Rita Dove.
The Weis Fellowship was established 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.