Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Springville, Susquehanna County
Awards: First Book Award from the Montana Arts Council, Skenderbeu Prize, Ditët E. Naimet Laureate, Norris Church Mailer Fellowship, Americans For The Arts Artist Exchange Fellowship, F. Lammot Belin Scholarship for Artists
Born in Kingston, Pennsylvania, in 1951, Craig Czury is a contemporary poet and translator who grew up during the economic decline of the northeastern Pennsylvania coal mining region. Much of the inspiration for his poetry came from this depression-stricken area. Czury has written over 20 poetry collections, including Janus Peeking (1980), God's Shiny Glass Eye (1987), and Fifteen Stories (2017). He has taught poetry in schools, prisons, homeless shelters, and community centers. At the time of this writing, Craig Czury splits his time between Springville, Pennsylvania, and Soncino, Italy.
Craig Czury was born on March 10, 1951, in Kingston, Pennsylvania, to Betty Kawalkiewicz. He was adopted shortly thereafter by John and Nelda Churry. As a young man, Czury grew up in the northeastern Pennsylvania coal mining region near Shamokin, Pennsylvania. Czury identifies strongly with the coal region. When Czury was just seven years old, the Susquehanna River flooded the Knox Anthracite Coal Mine in Luzerne County, which killed 12 miners and left thousands of others out of work. The disaster crippled the economic foundation of the area. The grief and abandonment Czury felt in this region became major themes in his poetry.
After he graduated from Dallas High School in Dallas, Pennsylvania, Czury drifted between several colleges and various temporary jobs across the United States. His next fifteen years were spent on the road, working odd jobs all over America and organizing poetry readings in his spare time. He attended Hiram Scott College and Nebraska Western Junior College, both in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Czury then moved to the University of Montana in Missoula, before attending Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where he earned his masters degree in fine arts.
Czury published his first book of poetry entitled Janus Peeking in 1980. The book received the 1980 First Book Award from the Montana Arts Council. From there, Czury went on to publish many more collections of poetry. Czury's first works illustrate the pain and emptiness of the depression-stricken Pennsylvania coal-mining region. The following is an excerpt from his poem entitled, "Coalscape:"
all this black dust
black cinder and glass ground up
in the spine of a torn-out trainbed
smoke rising out of birch on the culm bank
when it begins to rain
One of his most notable early collections is God's Shiny Glass Eye, published in 1987. This collection revolved around Czury's vision of the coal country. Critic Michael Basinski is quoted on the FootHills Publishing site as saying, "The poet's imagination and the anthracite world intimately merge to produce a poetry that is poignantly barren and stripped of any artificial embellishment."
After this period, Czury began working with incarcerated individuals in Washington, D.C. In the 1990s, marking the start of his passion for lifting and elevating unique and often unheard voices in the realm of poetry. This first project involved patients incarcerated at St. Elizabeth’s Psychiatric Hospital, pioneering his unique “poem fusion” form wherein he helped workshops develop both individual and group styles. He would carry this method to many other projects, including his work with at-risk youth, senior citizens, mental health patients, and many other groups, especially within the communities of Berks County.
Many of Czury's poetry books have been translated into different languages, including Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, and Italian. Czury has been a featured poet at the International Poetry Festivals in Argentina, Ireland, Croatia, Colombia, Lithuania, and Macedonia. He has attended and spoken at many international poetry festivals over the years. Czury was the Poet Laureate of Reading for two years (2010-2012) and was also the Laureate of the Ditët e Naimit International Albanian Poetry Festival in 2011.
At the time of this writing, Czury lives in Springville, Pennsylvania, but also spends much of his time in Soncino, Italy. He works as a travelling poet in schools, homeless shelters, prisons, mental hospitals, and community centers around the world. He is the co-editor of the Red Pagoda Press Poetry Pamphlet Series. Czury heads both the Berks Poetry Project and The Craig Czury International Poetry Project, which create multi-voice poetry from diverse racial and cultural communities, particularly those not often represented.
Janus Peeking. Santa Rosa, CA: Calleopea Press, 1980.
Against the Black Wind. Kendrick, ID: Two Magpie Press, 1981.
God's Shiny Glass Eye. Rexville, NY: Great Elm Press, 1987.