Balakian was born in Teaneck, New Jersey, and grew up there and in Tenafly, NJ. He attended Tenafly public schools and graduated from Englewood School for Boys (now Dwight-Englewood School) before earning his B.A. from Bucknell University, an M.A. from New York University, and a Ph.D. from Brown University in American Civilization. He has taught at Colgate University since 1980 where he is currently Donald M. and Constance H. Rebar Professor of the Humanities in the department of English, and Director of Creative Writing. He was the first Director of Colgate’s Center For Ethics and World Societies.
He is the author of five books of poems, most recently June-tree: New and Selected Poems 1974-2000. The others are Father Fisheye (1979), Sad Days of Light (1983), Reply From Wilderness Island (1988), Dyer’s Thistle (1996), and several fine limited editions. His work has appeared widely in American magazines and journals such as The Nation, The New Republic, Antaeus, Partisan Review, Poetry, and The Kenyon Review; and in anthologies such as New Directions in Prose and Poetry, The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets, Poetry’s 75th Anniversary Issue (1987), The Wadsworth Anthology of Poetry, and the four-CD set Poetry On Record 1886-2006 (Shout Factory). Four fine limited editions (with illustration) of Balakian’s poems have been published by The Press of Appletree Alley (Lewisburg, PA).
Balakian is the author of the memoir Black Dog of Fate, winner of the PEN/Albrand Prize for memoir and a New York Times Notable Book, and The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response, winner of the 2005 Raphael Lemkin Prize and a New York Times Notable Book and New York Times and national best seller. He is also the author of Theodore Roethke’s Far Fields (LSU, 1989). His essays on poetry, culture, art, and social thought have appeared in many publications including Art In America, American Poetry Review, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The American Quarterly, American Book Review, and Poetry.
He is co-founder and co-editor with the poet Bruce Smith of the poetry magazine Graham House Review, which was published from 1976-1996, and is the co-translator (with Nevart Yaghlian) of the book of poems Bloody News From My Friend by the Armenian poet Siamanto.
Balakian’s prizes and awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship; National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship; Emily Clark Balch Prize for poetry, Virginia Quarterly Review 2007; Movses Khorenatsi Medal from the Republic of Armenia 2007; Raphael Lemkin Prize, 2005 (best book in English on the subject of genocide and human rights); PEN/Martha Albrand Prize for Memoir, 1998; the New Jersey Council for the Humanities Book Award, 1998; Daniel Varoujan Prize, New England Poetry Club, 1986; Anahid Literary Prize, Columbia University Armenian Center, 1990.
Translations and editions of Balakian’s work appear in Armenian, Greek, German, Dutch, Bulgarian, Turkish, Russian, UK.
Balakian has appeared widely on national television and radio: ABC World News Tonight, The Charlie Rose Show, Terry Gross’s “Fresh Air”; NPR’s “Weekend Edition,” CNN, C-SPAN, Celeste Quinn’s “Afternoon Magazine,” “Literati,” (BRAVO Canada, PBS, New York City); WAMC, New York, Leonard Lopate’s WNYC, and others.