Balakian Gives West Coast Readings and Discusses Impact of Armenian Genocide on His Work

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WESTWOOD, Calif. — On April 16, 18, and 23, Pulitzer Prize winning poet Peter Balakian read at Claremont McKenna College, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and Fresno State respectively. His reading and autobiographical talk “Imagining the Past: Atrocity, Trauma, and the Armenian Genocide” — given in conjunction with the commemorative events for April 24 – focused on the impact of the Armenian past on his work.

Peter Balakian at Claremont McKenna College

Balakian discussed how he has worked through filaments of Armenian history to create his particular language and modes of representation. He emphasized that he writes about all the things poets write about: daily life, love, the body, nature, culture, war, politics, but that he has also been affected by the pull of history. His lecture and reading explored how his work has moved across generations in writing both poetry and memoir.

Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian, left, and Peter Balakian in Fresno

He reflected on how a past historical event can be transformed by the literary imagination in the American literary tradition and cultural present. He also discussed how various family figures and ancestors have provided a grounding for his work. He discussed the impact of his great-great uncle Krikoris Balakian (a bishop in the Armenian Church), who was one of the 250 cultural leaders arrested on April 24, 1915 at the onset of the Genocide, and his grandmother Nafina Aroosian who was a survivor along with her two young daughters, enduring a harrowing death march into the Syrian desert.

At Claremont McKenna College Balakian was hosted by Professor of History and Holocaust Studies Wendy Lower, the Director of the Mgrublian Center for Human Rights. At UCLA he was hosted by Professor Ann Karagosian, Director of the Armenian Promise Institute and at Fresno State University he was hosted by Professor Barlow Der Mugrdechian, and Dean of the College of Education Professor Sergio LaPorta. The lectures were followed by robust question and answer sessions and book signings.

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