Alumnus Wins National Poetry Award

Issue Date: 
December 1, 2016

University of Pittsburgh alumnus Daniel Borzutzky has won the 2016 National Book Award for Poetry. The prestigious honor, sponsored by the National Book Foundation, was presented Nov. 17 at the 67th annual National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner in New York City.

Widely considered the nation’s highest literary honor, the National Book Award recognizes outstanding work by U.S. citizens who have published the winning title within the last calendar year. The award is bestowed annually in the fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young people’s literature categories. Winners are granted a $10,000 prize and a bronze trophy.

This year’s award in poetry recognizes Borzutzky’s The Performance of Becoming Human (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2016), a book of 17 poems that examines cultural, historical, and social connections between the United States and Latin America. The collection specifically touches upon issues related to border and immigration policies, economic disparities, political violence, and political rhetoric.

“When I wrote this book, I was thinking about Chicago, a city I’ve lived in for nearly 20 years and care for very deeply. I was thinking of how Chicago destroys itself, abolishes public services, closes psychiatric hospitals, privatizes or shutters its public schools, and militarizes its police,” said Borzutzky, who is of Chilean ancestry. “I was thinking about how Chicago is like the Chile my parents left behind in the 1970s, which destroyed itself in many of the same ways. I was thinking about immigrants, refugees, and workers in the U.S. and abroad who give up their lives to survive in economies that exploit them and make them invisible.”

A native of Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, Borzutzky’s work has been described as humorous and satirical toward political figures and contemporary culture. In addition to The Performance of Becoming Human, he has published three full-length volumes of poetry: In the Murmurs of the Rotten Carcass Economy (Nightboat Books, 2015), The Book of Interfering Bodies (Nightboat Books, 2011), and The Ecstasy of Capitulation (BlazeVOX, 2007). He has also translated four books of Chilean poetry, including Galo Ghigliotto’s Valdivia (2016) and Raúl Zurita’s The Country of Planks (2015).

Borzutzky is a faculty member in the Department of English for the Wilbur Wright College of the City Colleges of Chicago, where he teaches courses in composition, creative writing, and literature. His work has been supported by the Illinois Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Pen/Heim Translation Fund. Borzutzky earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy at Pitt in 1997.

The University of Pittsburgh's most recent National Book Award winner in poetry before Borzutzky was Department of English professor and poet Terrance Hayes in 2010 for his book, Lighthead.