The St. Thomas Cultural Committee hosted an outstanding evening with honored guest, author, professor, and recent Pulitzer Prize winner Peter Balakian on Saturday, April 30. Saddler Hall was full of excitement and people who were eager to hear and meet Dr. Balakian in his first appearance in the Armenian community since winning the coveted Pulitzer Prize in Poetry just weeks ago.
“It is cool to see the emblem of Dzidzernagapert here,” he said, referencing the model built by members of St. Thomas Armenian Church.
The focal point of the evening was a screening of a portion of “America America,” an Oscar-winning film by renowned director Elia Kazan. In the words of Dr. Balakian, “America America” was a film that “dramatically depicted the slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman Sultan on a big Hollywood screen” and “has been oddly overlooked or misunderstood by film critics, scholars and popular audiences – even those with a deep interest in human rights.” The screening was followed by a riveting discussion among Dr. Balakian and attendees.
Guests were also treated to a reading of “Leaving Aleppo,” from Mr. Balakian’s recent prize-winning book of poems, Ozone Journal. This poem is about the speaker’s search for his ancestral home in post-genocidal Aleppo and the influence history has had on his memories. He also read an essay from his book Vise and Shadow: Essays on the Lyric Imagination, Poetry, Art, and Culture, discussing how the Armenian Genocide has been portrayed since the film “America America” was released in 1963. In this essay, he argues the silencing of historical references to the Genocide in recognized cultural productions, such as Elia Kazan’s flim.
Honored guests included Karine Kocharyan with Voice of Armenians TV NY. Several members of Peter Balakian’s family were also present. A commemorative candle was presented to Dr. Balakian by Talar Sarafian of the St. Thomas Cultural Committee. It was given as a token of thanks and congratulations, and depicted the Forget-Me-Not flower and Dzidzernagapert. In a reception at the end of the presentation, members of the Cultural Committee offered several of Dr. Balakian’s books for purchase. At this time, Peter Balakian graciously received questions from people and requests to sign his books, enthusiastically giving a chance for every attendee to speak to him.
“It was an intimate, informative and inspiring night. I loved how Mr. Balakian brought a nearly-forgotten masterpiece back to life. Also, it was a treat to hear him read one of the poems from his Pulitzer-Prize winning collection. Thanks for the church for hosting him and to Mr. Balakian (who graciously signed books for me and many others!)”
– Shant Shahrigian
It is indeed with many thanks to the efforts of the Cultural Committee for this wonderful evening at St. Thomas. St. Thomas Armenian Church looks forward to hosting Peter Balakian again in the future, and congratulates him on his continued literary success!
We invite you to view some images from the evening in our photo and video gallery.