Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Williamsport, Lycoming County
An Armenian immigrant, Gregory Djanikian grew up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and has published several volumes of poetry.
Awards: Public Poetry Project, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Eunice Tietjens Prize, Friends of Literature Award, Anahid Literary Award, University of Pennsylvania English Department Teaching Award
Born in 1949 in Alexandria, Egypt, Gregory Djanikian came to the United States at age eight and grew up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. After receiving degrees from both the University of Pennsylvania and Syracuse University, he began a career teaching English and Creative Writing. Djanikian's interest in poetry first began in college, and he has published five poetry collections. His poems have also appeared in several literary journals, anthologies, and textbooks. Djanikian currently directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and lives nearby with his wife and two children.
Gregory Djanikian was born on August 15, 1949, in Alexandria, Egypt, and at age eight moved with his family to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He received his undergraduate degree in English from the University of Pennsylvania and then went on to graduate from Syracuse University's Creative Writing Program. Djanikian has worked as an English teacher at New York public schools, as well as a Lecturer at both Syracuse University and the University of Michigan. Since 1983, he has worked at the University of Pennsylvania as both a Professor of English and the head of the Creative Writing Department.
The desire to write poetry did not come to Djanikian until he was inspired by his freshman English professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and ever since it has continued to be an important part of his life. Djanikian's passion for poetry is evident in his purpose behind his writing: "I feel that poetry is a communication between people on the most intense level, even if it's only between two people, writer and reader. This relationship may be one of the most intimate we might experience, when one intuitively and deeply speaks to another."
Since his first collection of poems, The Man in the Middle, was published by the Carnegie Mellon University Press in 1984, Djanikian has produced multiple books of poems. In addition, his poetry has been featured in several anthologies, textbooks, and journals, including The American Poetry Review, Boulevard, The Georgia Review, Iowa Review, Poetry, and The Southern Review, among others.
Djanikian has won many awards for his work. These include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the Eunice Tietjens Prize from Poetry magazine, the 2002 Friends of Literature Award, and the Anahid Literary Award from the Armenian Center of Columbia University in 2004.
Of Djanikian's second collection, Howard Frank Mosher wrote in the Washington Post "[Falling Deeply into America (1989) is] one of the most lyrical, and readily accessible, books of poetry I've read in years." In The Georgia Review, Judith Kitchen reviewed Djanikian's Years Later (2000), commenting, "With its gentle handling of psychology and its playful speculations, Years Later is. . .a study in tone. Tone dictates what attitude the reader will take toward content, and Djanikian masterfully modulates tone, playing something in each key in order to give us the full range of experience."
The themes present in Djanikian's poems range from his boyhood growing up in Alexandria, Egypt, to romantic love, as well as the Armenian genocide of 1915. A common feature in all of his work is his gift for descriptive language, as seen in "Alexandria, 1953" from Falling Deeply into America. Similarly, "Lac de Nom Perdu" from Years Later employs nature imagery to compliment the theme of love.
Djanikian's fifth volume of poetry, So I Will Till the Ground (2007), confronts the Armenian genocide of 1915 and delves into the complexities of immigrating to America. Here is reclamation, collective and personal, of an Armenian history in poems of remembrance, affection, tenderness, replenishment," says Pennsylvania poet and activist Eleanor Wilner. "In this moving collection, Gregory Djanikian does what Joseph Brodsky said the poet should do: begins in elegy and ends in praise.
Fellow cross-cultural poet Peter Balakian described Djanikian's work as "electric energy" that is able to "bring sight to insight," during his introduction of the poet at a Colgate University reading (2013). Djanikian responded with thanks, explaining that he writes to, "give those who died without the power to share their stories the ability to live within his works."
Djanikian's 2014 collection, Dear Gravity, offers meditations on art, violence, the allure of rough landscapes, and the wonderment, finally, of being earthly and substantial without future gaurantees, per its publisher Carnegie Mellon University Press.
Gregory Djanikian served as the Director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Pennsylvania for a time, and as of this writing, continues to teach there. In 2015, the university acknowledged his efforts with an English Department Teaching Award.
The Man in the Middle. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1984.
Falling Deeply into America. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1989.
About Distance. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1995.
Years Later. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2000.
So I Will Till the Ground. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2007.
Dear Gravity. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2014.