Zagajewski earns European Poetry Prize

Adam Zagajewski, a visiting professor in the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought and a prominent Polish poet and essayist, has received the European Poetry Prize, awarded biannually by the Cassamarca Foundation in northern Italy.

Zagajewski’s poem “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” published in The New Yorker’s Sept. 11 memorial edition, enhanced his reputation, the foundation pointed out in making the announcement.

His most recent collection of poems, Eternal Enemies, was published in 2008 by Farrar, Straus, Giroux. He is currently working on a new volume of prose, tentatively titled Slight Exaggeration.

Zagajewski, one of Poland’s most accomplished poets, has received numerous awards and honors, including the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 2004. Other honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Tomas Tranströmer Poetry Prize. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000.

Zagajewski was born in Lvov, Poland (now Ukraine) in 1945, and grew up in the industrial town of Gliwice. He studied at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, where he received MAs in psychology and philosophy in 1968 and 1970, respectively.

Zagajewski actively participated in the democratic opposition movement in Poland during the late 1970s. He was among the signers of the “Letter of 59,” a document written by a group of prominent Polish intellectuals opposing changes to the constitution proposed by the Communist party. At the invitation of the Berliner Künstlerprogramme (the Artists–in–Berlin Program), a world–renowned residency program, he left Poland for Berlin in 1979.

Zagajewski moved to Paris in 1982. There, he met and befriended the Nobel Prize–winning poet Czeslaw Milosz. Milosz later wrote the preface to Tremor, Zagajewski’s first collection of poems published in the United States, and the two remained close friends until Milosz’s death in 2004.

Prior to joining the UChicago faculty in 2007, Zagajewski taught creative writing at the University of Houston. At UChicago, he has taught courses on contemporary poetry and the work of Milosz. This quarter, he is teaching two graduate seminars, “Poets in their contexts” and, with David Wellbery, “Three Generations.

The Cassamarca Foundation aims to promote academic activities in various fields, including scientific research, culture, art, education and health. Founded in 1913 by a former Italian bank, it operates in Treviso, northern Italy and is based on the motto “Beautiful is useful.” The award presentation ceremony occurred Oct. 29 in Treviso.