Vijay Seshadri Becomes the First Asian American to Win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

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Vijay Seshadri became the first Asian American poet to win the Pulitzer Prize yesterday for his book 3 Sections. In its citation, the Pulitzer committee hailed the work as “a compelling collection of poems that examine human consciousness, from birth to dementia, in a voice that is by turns witty and grave, compassionate and remorseless.”

Reviewing the collection for The American Reader, Bhisham Bherwani wrote that Seshadri’s characters found themselves, “in situations that compel them—even as they remain inevitably attached to reality—to grapple with the domain of their disassociated selves.”

Born in Bangalore in 1954, Seshadri moved to the United States with his family five years VijaySeshadrilater and grew up in Columbus, Ohio. In this 2004 interview with Jeet Thayil for Poets and Writers magazine, Seshadri said he began writing as a teenager:

I think I conceived of myself as a writer before I started writing, and I started writing poetry when I was 16. I was in college. I had become interested in poetry and that first January I heard Galway Kinnell read from The Book of Nightmares, which as yet was unpublished. I loved that reading. I remember it clearly; it made me want to go home and start writing. I was never one of those writers who knew from the age of six that they were writers, who lisped in numbers. In my early twenties I wrote, or tried to write, a novel that was much too ambitious for me. I’d been influenced by the French new novel, and by Pynchon, and John Hawkes. They were radical novelists and I felt I had to write a novel like theirs. I probably had a novel in me, but it was much more a conventional novel that a person in their early twenties would write, a coming-of-age story; but I had modernist and postmodernist models. Around the time I was also reading Beckett’s trilogy and thought that’s what novels had to be. An impossible model, really. In my mid-twenties I went back to poetry.

Seshadri’s 3 Sections is his third book. It was preceded by 1996’s Wild Kingdom and The Long Meadow, which was published in 2005. He is currently a professor at Sarah Lawrence College.

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