Marian Miner Cook

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Imagining the Past: Atrocity, Trauma, and the Armenian Genocide

Tue, April 16, 2024
Dinner Program
Peter Balakian

Pulitzer Prize winning poet Peter Balakian will discuss how he has worked through filaments of Armenian history to create an inventive body of literature. He will explore how his work has moved across generations in his writing of both poetry and a memoir about the Armenian Genocide. How can a past historical event be transformed by the linguistic frequencies of literary imagination in the American present? Balakian will discuss how various family figures and ancestors have provided a grounding for his work; his great-great uncle Krikoris Balakian (Bishop in the Armenian Church), was one of the 250 cultural leaders arrested on April 25, 1915 at the onset of the Genocide, and his grandmother Nafina Aroosian who was a death march survivor along with her two young daughters, enduring a harrowing death march into the Syrian desert. 

Pulitzer Prize-winner Peter Balakian is the author of eight books of poems, four books of prose, and two translations. His poems have been critically acclaimed in the US and abroad for over four decades and his memoir was a best book of the year for the New York Times, the LA Times, and Publisher’s Weekly. Working from a form of poetics he calls “writing horizontal,” Balakian’s poetry engages a wide range of realities including genocide, war, terrorism, climate change, AIDS epidemic, historical trauma and memory as well as the personal domains of love, death, art, and culture. His is a sensuous language: personal and cosmopolitan, elliptical and cadence-jolted, sharp and textured, such that the language itself becomes its own force of discovery and meaning. 

Balakian’s work has appeared widely in American magazines and journals such as The Nation, The New Republic, Antaeus, Partisan Review, Poetry, and The Kenyon Review and his essays on poetry, culture, art, and social thought have appeared in many publications including the New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, Slate, LA Times, Art in America, American Poetry Review, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Poetry. The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response received the 2005 Raphael Lemkin Prize and was a New York Times and National Bestseller as well as a New York Times Notable Book.  As well, his translation with Aris Sevag of Grigoris Balakian’s Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide was a Washington Post book of the year.

In 2016, the Republic of Armenia awarded Balakian with the 2016 Presidential Medal and, in 2007 the Movses Khorenatsi Medal. Other prizes and awards and civic citations include a Guggenheim Fellowship; National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship; Virginia Quarterly Review; PEN/Martha Albrand Prize for Memoir; the Raphael Lemkin Prize for the best book in English on the subject of genocide and human rights’ and the Spendlove Prize for Social Justice, Tolerance, and Diplomacy (recipients include President Carter).

Peter Balakian was born in Teaneck, New Jersey where he attended Tenafly public schools and graduated from Englewood School for Boys (now Dwight-Englewood School) before earning his B.A. from Bucknell University, an M.A. from New York University, and a Ph.D. from Brown University in American Civilization. He has taught at Colgate University since 1980 where he is currently Donald M. and Constance H. Rebar Professor of the Humanities in the department of English, and Director of Creative Writing.

Dr. Balakian’s presentation is supported by the Mgrublian Center’s Annual Lecture on Armenian Studies.

Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum

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