NYS Writers Institute, November 13, 2003
Growing up in Belgrade, Yugoslavia during the 1940s and early '50s, Simic encountered butchery firsthand in the form of Nazi and Allied aerial bombardments. Simic's childhood was a tumultuous time, spanning Nazi occupation, the troubled birth of the Yugoslav Republic, and persecutions of his parents by the Communist authorities. Simic's family succeeded in emigrating to the U.S. in 1953.
At the age of 15, Simic was introduced to English and has since become a magician of the language. The author of more than 60 books, Simic writes poetry exclusively in English, his adopted tongue, although he is also an award-winning translator of poetry from Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, Slovenian and French.
Simic's most recent publication is a book of essays, The Metaphysician in the Dark (2003). The wide-ranging collection contains imaginative and original assessments of some of the poet's heroes (Buster Keaton and Hieronymous Bosch), and favorite poets (Mark Strand, Vasko Popa, Joseph Brodsky, James Merrill, Czeslaw Milosz and John Ashbery). Also included are two essays in which the poet, as a Serbian and humanitarian, vents his outrage at the brutal regime of Slobodan Milosevic.
Simic received the Pulitzer Prize for The World Doesn't End (1989), a collection of prose poem-fantasies. The reviewer for Library Journal said, "These 67 prose poems could be from Hamlet's writing tablet: investigating madness, they search for truth." The Washington Post called the book, "a beautifully designed box of verbal fireworks, or, to put it another way, a seamless fusion of wild jazz and delicate, moonstruck, European chamber music."
Some of Simic's more recent poetry collections include Jackstraws (1999), a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; Walking the Black Cat (1996), a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry; A Wedding in Hell (1994); Hotel Insomnia (1992); and Selected Poems: 1963-1983. Other recent books include the memoir, A Fly in the Soup (2000), and Orphan Factory (1998), a collection of essays. The Los Angeles Times said that A Fly in the Soup is "more than a writer's account of his own formation; it is also the story of a man shaped by extremes of history, a story of displacement, war and exile-a central story of the last century and one that Simic, who never let horror deprive him of aesthetic and sensual pleasure, tells vividly."
In 2000, Charles Simic was elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He is the past recipient of a MacArthur "Genius" Grant, and of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He serves as Professor of English at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, where he has taught since 1973.
Additional work by Charles Simic
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