Charles Simic Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Charles Simic was born Duan Simi in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in 1938, and emigrated to the United States in 1954. “My travel agents were [Adolf] Hitler and [Joseph] Stalin,” he has said. When Simic was three years old, a house across the street from his family’s home was destroyed by a bomb. For young Simic and his friends, the war (so serious and terrible for adults) was often a source of fun. There were guns and air-raid sirens to imitate—and, toward the end, a thriving salvage business in gunpowder. The chaos and menace of that time survive in Simic’s poems, along with its variety, wonder, comedy, and sadness. For Simic, the city survives as well. “My mother is calling my name out of a tenement window,” he has said. “She keeps calling and calling. My entire psychic life is there.”

Simic settled in Chicago, where he attended Oak Park High School and the University of Chicago. After finishing a stint in the U.S. Army, he lived in New York, working at a variety of jobs (shirt salesman, house painter, payroll clerk) and attending New York University, where he earned his B.A. Another part of his education took place in the New York Library, where he read all the folklore and anthropology he could find, as a way of introducing mythic consciousness into his poetry. He ended up making his own myths of things common and close to home: brooms, ballroom dances, and the fingers of a hand. Simic published his first two books, What the Grass Says and Somewhere Among Us a Stone Is Taking Notes, with Kayak Press; Dismantling the Silence (containing some poems from the first two books, plus new ones) was issued by the publisher George Braziller in 1971.

To his surprise, Simic’s increasing reputation brought invitations to teach. He has taught at the California State University at Hayward. In 1973, he began his long tenure teaching English at the University of New Hampshire. He retired in 2006 but has continued to teach at the university. He served as guest editor of The Best American Poetry, 1992 and as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2000 to 2002. In 2007, he received the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets and was named the fifteenth U.S. poet laureate, an appointment made by the Library of Congress.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Charles Simic (SEEM-ihch) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. Naturalized as an American citizen in 1971, Simic was born in Belgrade, then located in Yugoslavia. With black humor he recalls his childhood during World War II, marked by bombings and waves of advancing and retreating soldiers, as “a three-ring circus.” He describes how, from the summer of 1944 to mid-1945, he “ran around the streets of Belgrade with other half-abandoned kids.” Critics have speculated that the peculiar blend of horror and whimsy in Simic’s work can be traced to those days. Simic admits to still being “haunted by images” of the war.

In 1949 Simic and his mother moved to Chicago to join his father, an engineer who had found employment there with the telephone company for which he had worked in Yugoslavia. His father took him to hear jazz, which Simic credits with making him “both an American and a poet.”

Beginning in 1957, Simic attended the University of Chicago at night and worked during the day as a proofreader at the Chicago Sun Times. He eventually transferred to New York University, from which he received a B.A. in 1967. From 1966 to 1969 Simic, who initially studied to be an artist, worked as an editorial assistant for Aperture, a photography magazine. He began teaching at California State College, Hayward, in 1970. He left that position in 1973, when he was hired as an associate professor of English at the University of New Hampshire.

While a student at the University of Chicago, Simic had audited a poetry workshop taught by John Logan. Logan’s workshops and seminars were associated...

(The entire section is 672 words.)