Pulitzer Prize-winner Peter Balakian is the first Bucknellian to become a Weis Fellow
Photo: Emily Paine
Pulitzer Prize-winner Peter Balakian is the first Bucknellian to become a Weis Fellow.
Prized Poet Comes Home
by Christina Masciere Wallace
A warm glow filled Bucknell Hall on April 5 as family, friends and admirers of Peter Balakian ’73, P’10 welcomed the poet back to his spiritual campus home, where he became the 13th Janet Weis Fellow in Contemporary Letters.

In presenting the award, President John Bravman noted that Balakian is the first Bucknell graduate to be named a Weis Fellow. The honor recognizes the highest level of achievement in the craft of writing within the realms of fiction, nonfiction or biography. Previous recipients include Edward Albee, David McCullough, Derek Walcott, Tom Wolfe, Salman Rushdie, John Updike and Toni Morrison.

The Weis Fellow honor is the latest of many for Balakian, winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. He also received the Service to Humanity Award from the University at Reunion this June. 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.

Even given his many honors, there was something extra special about this evening at his alma mater. Bucknell Hall is the home of the Stadler Center for Poetry, where Balakian spent many hours honing his art. Many of his relatives attended Bucknell, and several came to the ceremony, including his mother, Arax Aroosian Balakian ’48.

“It’s most likely true that my family is here tonight all because my mother made a voyage from Newark to Montandon by train” to attend Bucknell, he said with a smile.

Balakian reflected on his undergraduate years; shared stories of a family history shaped by the trauma of the Armenian genocide; and read selections from his work, including Ozone Journal, which won the 2016 Pulitzer.

During a moderated discussion with Professor Harold Schweizer, English, Balakian took questions from audience members, including a student who asked about his writing process as a Bucknell undergraduate.

“Thank God, my buddy Jack was there to sit down with me. No matter how much I bothered him, we’d sit down and talk through drafts,” Balakian replied, referring to the late Professor of English John “Jack” Wheatcroft ’49. Balakian often met his mentor at an on-campus café, the Bison, to discuss his work — a “powerfully important process for learning,” he noted.

“It’s one of the great things about Bucknell … the mentoring, that tutorial connection you can get with a teacher. It’s worth your whole life.”