~from Communications Coordinator Jill Salahub
Although reading his poetry now and looking at the list of his awards, honors, and publications might make it hard to believe, at one point Gregory Pardlo dropped out of Rutger’s having “bought into the stories about African American boys.” Having left school, Pardlo joined the Marine Reserves, and for several years managed a jazz club owned by his family. Watching the jazz musicians who played at the club, Pardlo started to understand the discipline and respect the hard work it required to be an artist.
I remember one musician who didn’t particularly care for the business end of things. He asked me late one night, as the band was packing up, if I planned to be a bar manager for the rest of my life — I was in my early twenties. I said I really wanted to write poems, but that I had to do something for money. He told me, in very colorful language, to commit myself to my craft, and if I did the universe would always help me to support it. He wasn’t wrong.
Pardlo went back to Rutgers University-Camden and received his B.A. in English, and went on to earn his M.F.A. from New York University as a New York Times Fellow in Poetry. His first collection of poems, Totem, was published in 2008. It won the prestigious APR/Honickman First Book Prize. His second book, Digest, won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, (as well as being a nominee for the 2015 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, finalist for Foreword Reviews’ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award in Poetry, and nominated for the 46th NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry). He says of the title, “I’m a digest of all these identities, all these interests.” When Gregory Pardlo first heard that he was 2015’s Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry he was sure someone was playing a cruel joke on him.
His work has been praised for its “language simultaneously urban and highbrow… snapshots of a life that is so specific it becomes universal.”
Perhaps the greatest gift in Pardlo’s poems is their demand. Asked to step into his world and find out about ourselves, we discover our willingness to change, to engage in conversation, to admit vulnerability, to realign without judgment our relationship to a word, a thought, an experience. (Lou Fancher)
His other honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. His mission now, “if I can say I have one,” is to “have my students, and have my readers, question the limits that they place on themselves.” He has previously taught at Columbia University, George Washington University, Medgar Evers College, The New School University, John Jay College, Hunter College, and NYU. Pardlo joined the faculty of the M.F.A. program in creative writing at Rutgers University-Camden this fall, returning to that same school he once left having doubted he was good enough to succeed. Pardlo is also the author of Air Traffic, a memoir in essays forthcoming from Knopf, and lives with his family in Brooklyn.
We are so excited that Gregory Pardlo is coming to CSU to read as part of the Creative Writing Reading Series, and we hope you will join us — Thursday, October 13 at 7:30 pm in the Lory Student Center Ballroom 350A. This reading is free and open to the public. We’ll save you a seat!