English Alumnus Earns Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

By Tom McLaughlin

For decades, the undergraduate English program at Rutgers University–Camden has prepared students to become successful poets, authors, and English scholars through the intensive study and practice of writing.

The program can now add a Pulitzer Prize winner in poetry to its list of esteemed graduates.

Gregory Pardlo

Gregory Pardlo

Gregory Pardlo, a 1999 graduate of Rutgers–Camden with a bachelor’s degree in English, has earned the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his poem collection Digest (Four Way Books, 2014). The honor, which recognizes “a distinguished volume of original verse by an American author,” was given to Pardlo for his “clear-voiced poems that bring readers the news from 21st Century America, rich with thought, ideas and histories public and private,” according to the Pulitzer Prize jury.

Kris Lindenmeyer, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers–Camden, lauds Pardlo’s “extraordinary and well-deserved” success, noting that his achievement is a testament to his Rutgers–Camden roots.

“His path is a reflection of Rutgers–Camden’s commitment to providing quality education, access, and opportunity, so that all our students may fulfill their highest potential,” says Lindenmeyer. “We are so proud to have Greg Pardlo as an alumnus of Rutgers–Camden’s College of Arts and Sciences.”

Pardlo joins fellow graduate Richard Aregood CCAS ’65 among Rutgers University–Camden’s roster of Pulitzer Prize winners; Aregood earned the Pulitzer for  editorial writing in 1985.

While Pardlo’s success is extraordinary, it comes as no surprise to those who knew him during his undergraduate days at Rutgers–Camden.

“Greg’s distinctive voice and raw talent for poetry were both clear from the very first creative writing workshops that he took as an undergraduate,” recalls Lisa Zeidner, a professor of English at Rutgers–Camden. “He also has the grit and spirit to make it as a writer. I couldn’t be more thrilled for him.”

The Pulitzer Prize winner acknowledges that, had it not been for a poetry workshop that he took with Zeidner during his first year at Rutgers–Camden, he might not be a poet at all.

“Lisa showed me possibilities within the genre, and taught me discipline in the craft that filled a need in me I hadn’t been able to name before that,” recalls Pardlo. “Lisa Zeidner lit the fire.”

Born in Philadelphia, Pardlo grew up in nearby Willingboro. As he recalls, he briefly attended classes at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, but was unsure of his future plans. Ten years later, he was working at the jazz club that his family owned in Pennsauken when a friend convinced him to continue his education at Rutgers–Camden. Shortly thereafter, Pardlo enjoyed his first taste of literary success, recalling that he won an undergraduate creative writing prize that “was probably as meaningful to me at the time as the Pulitzer is to me now.”

Pardlo CoverPardlo will return to his alma mater on June 29 to serve as a guest speaker at the 30th Annual Rutgers University–Camden Summer Writers’ Conference.

“It’s always an honor to be welcomed back,” says Pardlo, who also led a workshop at a summer writers’ conference several years ago. “If my presence can be symbolic to participants, too – beyond instruction in the classroom – I’m thrilled to offer it.”

In addition to his writing, Pardlo serves as associate editor of the quarterly literary magazine Callaloo and is currently a teaching fellow in undergraduate writing at Columbia University. He earned a master of fine arts degree from New York University.

Digest is also a nominee for the 2015 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, a finalist for Foreword Reviews’ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award in Poetry, and was nominated for the 46th NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry. The collection also made The New York Times’ “Ten Favorite Poetry Books of 2014.”

Pardlo also received the American Poetry Review/Honickman Prize in 2007 for his first book, Totem (Copper Canyon Press, 2007). His poems have also appeared in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, The Nation, Ploughshares, and Tin House, as well as the anthologies Angles of Ascent, the Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, and two editions of Best American Poetry. He is the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship and a fellowship for translation from the National Endowment for the Arts.

He currently resides in Brooklyn with his wife, two daughters, and a rabbit named Oliver.

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