News Story

Georgetown English Professor Finalist for 2019 National Book Award

November 21, 2019 – Department of English professor and renowned poet Carolyn Forché was a National Book Award finalist for a memoir detailing her experiences in El Salvador between 1978 and 1980, including narrow escapes from American-trained death squads. 

What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance (Penguin Random House, 2019) was listed as a finalist for the 2019 National Book Awards for Nonfiction. The book details how a meeting with a stranger during her time in South America kicked off her long career as a human rights activist.

During her time in El Salvador, she and the stranger meet military officials, impoverished farm workers and clergy members, allowing Forché to immerse herself in the country’s culture on the brink of war, and to understand the need for social activism, a lesson she has carried with her throughout her impressive career.

“The National Book Awards’ nomination of our colleague Carolyn Forché for her haunting memoir, What You Have Heard is True, recognizes not only the unique achievement of that book, but also Professor Forché’s larger contribution as a poet, activist, and teacher to our country’s struggle to understand the impact of our policies and actions on the world around us,” says English Department Chair Ricardo Ortiz. “Her experiences witnessing oppression and violence shaped Forché’s own poetic work and grounded her concept of a poetry of witness; now, her memoir, in lyrical, clear-eyed prose, not only sheds new light on what she herself risked in the process but also gives readers a first-hand account of the terrible suffering that has plagued one of our nearest neighbors for so many decades.”

Forché, also an editor and translator, is the author of four books of poetry, including Gathering the Tribes, which won the Yale Younger Poets Award; The Country Between Us, chosen as the Lamont Selection of the Academy of American Poets; The Angel of History, which garnered the Los Angeles Times Book Award; and Blue Hour, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. 

A Poetic Legacy

In addition to these recognitions, she received the Edita and Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation Award for Peace and Culture in Stockholm in 1998 for her work on behalf of human rights and the preservation of memory and culture. She also serves as the executive vice president of Cities of Refuge in North America.

Her fellowships include three from the National Endowment for the Arts, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lannan Foundation Fellowship, a Robert Creeley Award and the Academy of American Poets Fellowship.

Forché, a University Professor at Georgetown, has been called one of the most gifted writers of her generation and continues to build her legacy. Her newest poetry collection, In the Lateness of the World will be released in 2020 through Penguin Press.

Georgetown Represents

Alumnus Ilya Kaminsky (C’01) was also a finalist in the 2019 National Book Awards for Poetry for his book Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press, 2019), in which the Odessa-born poet imagines a protest where a gunshot deafens those involved. 

Kaminsky, who is himself deaf because of a doctor’s misdiagnosis while he was a boy in the Soviet Union, was an English major at Georgetown. He is the recipient of a Whiting Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was also named a finalist for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. 

-by Shelby Roller (G’19)