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Peter Balakian was born on June 13, 1951, in Teaneck, New Jersey. He earned a BA from Bucknell University in 1973 and an MA from New York University in 1975, and in 1980, he received a PhD in American Civilization from Brown University.
He is the author of seven poetry collections, including Ozone Journal (University of Chicago Press, 2015), which was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; Ziggurat (University of Chicago Press, 2010); and June-tree: New and Selected Poems, 1974–2000 (HarperCollins, 2001). His work frequently bears witness to the Armenian genocide, which his maternal grandmother survived, and other issues of social justice. According to Sherrie Spendlove, “Peter Balakian has been called 'the American conscience of the Armenian Genocide.’”
Balakian has said of his work, “As a poet I want to have my antennae always hooked into things that have significance, that matter, that are necessary and that in some way belong to me—that I can make a legitimate claim to. I don’t want those issues to be writing the poem, but I want them to feed it and fuel it for the larger engagement with the materials and the consciousness that I, as a poet, am always pursuing.”
He is also the author of several books of prose, including the memoir Black Dog of Fate (Basic Books, 1997), which was awarded the PEN/Albrand Prize, and The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response (HarperCollins, 2003), which received the 2005 Raphael Lemkin Prize.
Balakian has received numerous awards and fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and the Movses Khorenatsi Medal from the Republic of Armenia. Since 1980, he has taught at Colgate University, where he directs the Center for Ethics and World Studies.