The 2021 Princeton Poetry Festival, a biennial event, will be presented by Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts on Friday, November 12, 2021 from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the Berlind Theatre at the McCarter Theatre Center. The festival will include a full day of readings, panel discussions and a lecture by a roster of eight award-winning, international poets. The poetry festival is free and open to the public, but advance tickets are required through McCarter Box Office. All guests are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, to wear a mask when indoors, and to show proof of vaccination and a photo ID at the door (Princeton students, faculty and staff only need to show their PU ID card.); children under 12 are not permitted in campus buildings as they are not currently able to be vaccinated.
The Princeton Poetry Festival is organized by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Paul Muldoon, Princeton’s Howard G.B. Clark 21’ University Professor in the Humanities, and the founding chair of the Lewis Center. The 2021 Festival will showcase poets from the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, and El Salvador.
“One of the most significant aspects of poetry is that it is a worldwide phenomenon.”
— Paul Muldoon
Meet the Poets
There are four poets from the United States in the festival:
Reginald Dwayne Betts is an award-winning author, poet, lawyer, and advocate for criminal justice. He graduated from Yale Law School, where he is currently a Ph.D. in Law candidate. Betts’ memoir, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison (Penguin Publishing, 2009), explores how he used his time in prison as a young adult to become a poet, scholar, and advocate for reform. In 2018, he was named a Guggenheim Fellow and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow. In 2021, he was one of 25 selected for a MacArthur Fellowship. He has also received a Soros Justice Fellowship and an NAACP Image Award.
Victoria Chang is a 2017 Guggenheim Fellow. She has also won a Sustainable Arts Foundation Fellowship, the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay DiCastagnola Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Lannan Residency Fellowship, and a Katherine Min MacDowell Colony Fellowship. Her book, OBIT (Cooper Canyon Press, 2020), was named a New York Times Notable Book and a TIME best book of the year. She has also written a children’s picture book and a middle-grade novel. She is the program chair of Antioch’s Low-Residency M.F.A. Program.
Laura Kasischke is a poet and novelist whose work is noted for its intelligent, honest portrayal of domestic and familial life; its detailed imagery and dense soundscapes; and its idiosyncratic use of narrative. Kasischke’s collection of poems, Space, in Chains (Copper Canyon Press, 2011), won the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has also won several Pushcart Prizes, the Juniper Prize, the Beatrice Hawley Award, and the Alice Fay DiCastagnola Award, as well as a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 2012 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2009.
Patricia Smith is currently a visiting professor of creative writing at Princeton and professor of English for the City University of New York. She won the 2021 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation for lifetime achievement. Smith’s books of poetry include Incendiary Art (Northwestern University Press, 2017), which won the Kingsley Tufts Award; Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (Coffee House Press, 2021), which won the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets; and Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press, 2008), a National Book Award Finalist. Smith also won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and was a finalist for Neudstadt Prize.
Two poets from the United Kingdom are:
Sasha Dugdale, the current writer-in-residence at St John’s College, Cambridge, and former editor of Modern Poetry in Translation, has published five collections of poetry, including Deformations (Carcanet, 2020), which was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Derek Walcott Prize. Her poetry translations from Russian include the work of Elena Shvarts and Maria Stepanova. Dugdale’s prose translation of Stepanova’s In Memory of Memory (2020) was shortlisted for the Man International Booker Prize and is currently longlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize.
Daljit Nagra, a poet of Sikh-Indian heritage who was born and grew up in West London and Sheffield, is the chair of the Royal Society of Literature, serves on the Council of The Society of Authors, acts as adviser to Poetry By Heart, and is professor of English and creative writing at Brunel University. Nagra’s awards include the Forward Prize for Best Individual Poem and Best First Book, the South Bank Show Decibel Award, the Cholmondeley Award, and the Royal Society of Arts Travelling Scholarship. His books have been nominated for the Costa Prize and twice for the T.S. Eliot Prize.
Javier Zamora was born in El Salvador and migrated to the U.S. when he was nine-years-old, traveling 4,000 miles, unaccompanied, to be reunited with his parents. His first poetry collection, Unaccompanied (Copper Canyon Press, 2017), explores how immigration and civil war have impacted his life and family. The book won the 2018 North California Book Award, the 2018 Firecracker Award, and was a finalist for the 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Zamora was a 2018-2019 Radcliffe Institute Fellow at Harvard and has been granted fellowships from CantoMundo, Colgate University, the Lannan Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, and Stanford University.
Polina Barskova is a poet and scholar from Russia. She has authored 12 collections of poems and three books of prose in Russian. Her collection of creative nonfiction, Living Pictures, received the Andrey Bely Prize in 2015 and is forthcoming in German with Suhrkamp Verlag and in English with New York Review of Books. She edited the Leningrad Siege poetry anthology Written in the Dark, published by the University of Dayton in 2016, and has four collections of poetry published in English translation: This Lamentable City (Tupelo Press, 2010), The Zoo in Winter (Melville House, 2011), Relocations (Zephyr Press, 2013) and Air Raid (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021). She teaches Russian Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.
“One of the most significant aspects of poetry,” notes Muldoon, “is that it is a worldwide phenomenon. It allows all of us to learn more about an unfamiliar culture (or even a familiar one), than any number of history books, sociological studies, documentary films or reality television shows.”
The panel discussions will explore “poetry and purpose,” a theme which Muldoon welcomes each poet to interpret in their own way.
Schedule of Events
The Festival begins at 10:30 a.m. with a gala opening reading featuring all eight poets with an introduction by Muldoon. After a brief intermission, the day continues with a panel entitled “Poetry and Purpose (1),” moderated by Muldoon, and featuring Betts, Chang, Nagra, and Zamora.
At 12:15 p.m., a reading featuring Barskova, Dugdale, Kasischke, and Smith will be introduced by Michael Dickman, winner of a 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship and lecturer in the Program in Creative Writing at Princeton.
A lecture by Dugdale entitled “Contemporary Russian Poetry” at 2:15 p.m. will be introduced by Olga Hasty, professor emerita of Slavic languages and literatures at Princeton.
The second panel of the day will be at 3:15 p.m. and will be entitled “Poetry and Purpose (2).” This panel will feature Barskova, Dugdale, Kasischke, and Smith, and will be moderated by Muldoon.
At 4:15 p.m., the Festival concludes with a reading by Betts, Chang, Nagra, and Zamora. Rowan Ricardo Phillips, an award-winning poet and visiting professor of creative writing at Princeton, will provide an introduction.
Poetry at Princeton
Princeton University has a longstanding tradition of nurturing poets. From Revolutionary War poet Philip Morin Freneau, class of 1771, to major post-war poets William Ralph Meredith ’40, Galway Kinnell ’48, and W.S. Merwin ’48, to Monica Youn ’93, and Jenny Xie ’08; hundreds of renowned graduates have studied poetry and creative writing at Princeton. Today, poetry continues to thrive at Princeton under the direction of such renowned poets and professors as Dickman, Muldoon, Phillips, and Susan Wheeler, and a number of guest and visiting writers.
To learn more about the Lewis Center for the Arts and the more than 100 public theater and dance performances, exhibitions, readings, screenings, concerts and lectures presented each year by the Lewis Center, most of them free, visit arts.princeton.edu.