Gregory Pardlo (born November 24, 1968) is an American poet, writer, and professor. His book Digest won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. His poems, reviews, and translations have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Callaloo, Poet Lore, Harvard Review, Ploughshares, and on National Public Radio. His work has been praised for its “language simultaneously urban and highbrow… snapshots of a life that is so specific it becomes universal.”
Pardlo’s first volume of poems, Totem, was chosen by Brenda Hillman as the winner of the 2007 American Poetry Review / Honickman First Book Prize, distributed by Copper Canyon Press. The manuscript for Totem was also a semifinalist for the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, a finalist for the National Poetry Series, and a finalist for the inaugural Essence Magazine Literary Award in Poetry. Pardlo is the translator of the full-length poetry collection Pencil of Rays and Spike Mace by Danish poet Niels Lyngsø.
Born in Philadelphia, Pardlo grew up in Willingboro, New Jersey. His younger brother is Robbie Pardlo, an American musician formerly of R&B group City High. His father, Gregory Pardlo Sr., is a former air traffic controller who participated in the air traffic controllers’ strike of 1981.
Gregory Pardlo received his BA in English from Rutgers University-Camden, an MFA from New York University as a New York Times Fellow in Poetry, and an MFA in nonfiction from Columbia University; he is also a doctoral candidate in English at the City University of New York. He has been the recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Cave Canem Foundation, the MacDowell Artist’s Colony, the Seaside Institute, the Lotos Club Foundation, and City University of New York, as well as a translation grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Pardlo’s poem Written by Himself appeared in The Best American Poetry 2010 anthology series edited by David Lehman and Amy Gerstler, following initial publication in The American Poetry Review. His poem Wishing Well appeared in The Best American Poetry 2014, guest edited by Terrance Hayes, following initial publication in Painted Bride Quarterly. Pardlo serves as an Associate Editor for the literary journal Callaloo. He has led writing workshops for the PEN American Center, American Poetry Review / Young Voices Program, The Frost Place Conference, Callaloo Creative Writer’s Workshop, and Jamaica’s Calabash International Literary Festival, among others. He is a Teaching Fellow at Columbia University.
In 2016, Pardlo accepted a tenure-track faculty position with the English department at his alma mater, Rutgers University-Camden. He has previously taught at Columbia University, George Washington University, Medgar Evers College, The New School University, John Jay College, Hunter College, and NYU.
Gregory Pardlo’s father was a brilliant and charismatic man–a leading labor organizer who presided over a happy suburban family of four. But when he loses his job following the famous air traffic controllers’ strike of 1981, he succumbs to addiction and exhausts the family’s money on more and more ostentatious whims. In the face of this troubling model and disillusioned presence in the household, young Gregory rebels. Struggling to distinguish himself on his own terms, he hustles off to Marine Corps boot camp. He moves across the world, returning to the United States only to take a job as a manager-cum-barfly at his family’s jazz club.
Air Traffic follows Gregory as he builds a life that honors his history without allowing it to define his future. Slowly, he embraces the challenges of being a poet, a son, and a father as he enters recovery for alcoholism and tends to his family. In this memoir, written in lyrical and sparkling prose, Gregory tries to free himself from the overwhelming expectations of race and class, and from the tempting yet ruinous legacy of American masculinity.
From Epicurus to Sam Cooke, the Daily News to Roots, Digest draws from the present and the past to form an intellectual, American identity. In poems that forge their own styles and strategies, we experience dialogues between the written word and other art forms. Within this dialogue we hear Ben Jonson, we meet police K-9s, and we find children negotiating a sense of the world through a father’s eyes and through their own.
Totem, winner of the APR/Honickman First Book Prize, is the debut of a poet who has been listening for decades. In his youth, Gregory Pardlo heard stories of factory hours and picket lines from his father; in the bars, clubs, and on the radio he listens to jazz and blues, the rhythms, beats, and aspirations of which all of which seep into his poems.
A former Cave Canem fellow, Pardlo creates work that is deeply autobiographical, drifting between childhood and adult life. He speaks a language simultaneously urban and highbrow, seamlessly switching from art analysis to sneakers hung over the telephone lines. Deeply rooted in a blue-collar world, he produces snapshots of a life that is so specific it becomes universal.
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