William & Mary

Pulitzer-Prize winning poet to give reading

The poet Charles Simic likes to joke about how Hitler and Stalin were his travel agents. Born in 1938 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, Simic and his family tried to flee Hitler’s Nazis who bombed and invaded Belgrade when Simic was an infant. The Nazis arrested Simic’s father, an engineer, and sent him to work in Germany. He escaped and made his way to Italy, where he was arrested by the Nazis again. Eventually freed by the Allies, he traveled to the U.S., hoping his family would join him.

After World War II, Charles Simic tried to leave Yugoslavia with his mother and brother, but Stalin’s Communists had taken control of the country and closed the borders. Once while trying to flee, the Communists arrested Simic and his family and put them in prison. When they were released, the impoverished Simics returned to Belgrade where they sometimes had to subsist on onions and stale bread.

In the mid-1950s, Simic’s mother managed to escape with her two sons to Paris. With money donated by the World Church Service, she bought tickets so she and her son could sail on the Queen Mary to New York City. It was in New York that Charles Simic finally reunited with his father, who had been separated from his family for a decade.

Simic knew little English when he arrived in the U.S. To improve his language skills he watched a lot of TV. Before long, his father moved the family to Oak Park, the suburb of Chicago where Hemingway had grown up. Simic began writing poetry in Oak Park to impress his friends. After graduating from high school, he worked at odd jobs, took night classes at the University of Chicago, painted, listened to jazz, and kept writing.

Simic returned to New York City before being drafted into the army in 1961. After his army service, he enrolled in New York University. Having received his B.A. at the age of 28, he began his teaching career at California State University, then moved to the University of New Hampshire where he taught from 1973 until he retired in the spring of 2006.

Simic has published numerous books of prose and poetry. He has won most of the major literary awards, including a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur “genius” Fellowship. He will be giving a poetry reading on Wednesday, November 8 at 8:00 PM in Tucker Hall 120. The reading is free and open to the public. There will be a reception and book signing after the reading.

See more Notes