Carolyn Forché NBCC 2011 Shankbone

Carolyn Forché announcing the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award finalists in poetry. Photo by David Shankbone. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Carolyn Forché (born April 28, 1950) is an American poet, editor, translator, academic, and human rights advocate.[1]


Forché was born in Detroit, Michigan, on April 28, 1950, to Michael Joseph and Louise Nada Blackford Sidlosky.

She earned a B.A. in International Relations at Michigan State University in 1972, and M.F.A. at Bowling Green State University in 1975.[2] She taught at a number of universities, including Michigan State University, the University of Virginia, Skidmore College, Columbia University, San Diego State University and in the Master of Fine Arts program at George Mason University



Linda Ravenswood (l) & Carolyn Forche in 1990. Photo by JesuitsAlly1. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Forché's first poetry collection, Gathering the Tribes (1976), was published by Yale University Press. In 1977, she traveled to Spain to translate the work of Salvadoran-exiled poet Claribel Alegría. Upon her return, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship, which enabled her to travel to El Salvador, where she worked as a human rights advocate. Her second book, The Country Between Us (1981), was published with the help of Margaret Atwood. [3]

Her articles and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation,[4] Esquire, Mother Jones, Boston Review,[5] and others. Forché has held three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 1992 received a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship.[6]

File:Carolyn Forche.jpg

Her anthology, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, was published in 1993, and her third book of poetry, The Angel of History, in 1994,. Her works include the famed poem The Colonel. She is also a trustee for the Griffin Poetry Prize.[7]

Though Forché is sometimes described as a political poet, she considers herself a poet who is politically engaged. After first acquiring both fame and notoriety for her second volume of poems, The Country Between Us, she pointed out that this reputation rested on a limited number of poems describing what she personally had experienced in El Salvador during the Salvadoran Civil War. Her aesthetic is more one of rendered experience and at times of mysticism rather than one of ideology or agitprop. Forché is particularly interested in the effect of political trauma on the poet's use of language.

The anthology Against Forgetting was intended to collect the work of poets who had endured the impress of extremity during the twentieth century, whether through their engagements or force of circumstance. These experiences included warfare, military occupation, imprisonment, torture, forced exile, censorship, and house arrest. The anthology, composed of the work of one hundred and forty-five poets writing in English and translated from over thirty languages, begins with the Armenian Genocide and ends with the uprising of the pro-Democracy movement at Tiananmen Square. Although she was not guided in her selections by the political or ideological persuasions of the poets, Forché believes the sharing of painful experience to be radicalizing, returning the poet to an emphasis on community rather than the individual ego. In this she was strongly influenced by Terrence des Pres.[8] Forché is also influenced by her Slovak family background, particularly the life story of her grandmother, an immigrant whose family included a woman resistance fighter imprisoned during the Nazi occupation of former Czechoslovakia. Forché was raised Roman Catholic and religious themes are frequent in her work.

Among her translations are Mahmoud Darwish's Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems (2003), Claribel Alegría's Sorrow (1999), and Robert Desnos's Selected Poetry (with William Kulik, for the Modern English Poetry Series, 1991).

Her fourth book of poems, Blue Hour, was released in 2003. Forthcoming books include a memoir, The Horse on Our Balcony (2010, HarperCollins), a book of essays (2011, HarperCollins) and a fifth collection of poems, In the Lateness of the World (HarperCollins).

She is Director of the Lannan Center for Poetry and Poetics and holds the Lannan Chair in Poetry at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.[9][10] She lives in Maryland with her husband, Harry Mattison, a photographer, and their son, Sean-Christophe Mattison, who is a filmmaker.


Gathering the Tribes won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition.[11]

The Country Between Us received the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and was also the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets.

The Angel of History was chosen for The Los Angeles Times Book Award.[11]

She won the 2006 Robert Creeley Award.[12]

Publications Edit


  • Gathering the Tribes. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1976.
  • The Colonel. St. Paul, MN: Bieler Press, 1978.
  • The Country between Us. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 1981.
  • The Angel of History. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.
  • Blue Hour. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.
  • What Comes. Tucson, AZ: Kore Press, 2010.[13]


  • Women in the Labor Movement, 1835-1925: An Annotated Bibliography (With Martha Jane Soltow). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 1972.
  • (Coauthor) History and Motivations of U.S. Involvement in the Control of the Peasant Movement in El Salvador: The Role of AIFLD in the Agrarian Reform Process. Washington, DC: Epica, 1980.
  • (Author of text) El Salvador: The Work of Thirty Photographers (edited by Harry Mattison, Susan Meiselas, and Fae Rubenstein). New York: Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative, 1983.
  • Colors Come from God—Just like Me! New York: Abingdon Press, 1995.
  • (With others) Lani Maestro/Cradle Cradle Ugoy (exhibition catalog). New York: Art in General, 1996.


  • Claribel Alegría, Flowers from the Volcano. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982.
  • (Translator, with William Kulik) The Selected Poems of Robert Desnos. New York: Ecco Press, 1991.
  • Claribel Alegría, Saudade=Sorrow. Willimantec, CT: Curbstone Press, 1999.
  • (Translator and editor, with Munir Akash, Sinan Antoon, and Amira El-Zein) Mahmoud Darwish, Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003.


  • Women and War in El Salvador. New York: Women’s International Resource Exchange, 1980.
  • (Editor and author of introduction) Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness. New York: Norton, 1993.
  • (Editor, with Philip Gerard) Writing Creative Nonfiction: Instruction and Insights from Teachers of the Associated Writing Programs. Cincinnati, OH: Story Press, 2001.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[1]

Audio / videoEdit

Carolyn Forche performs "The Colonel"04:03

Carolyn Forche performs "The Colonel"


  • Ourselves or Nothing. Washington, DC: Watershed Tapes, 1982.
  • Carolyn Forché Reading. Aspen, CO: Aspen Writers Foundation, 1985.
  • Carolyn Forché Lecture. Aspen, CO: Aspen Writers Foundation, 1986.
  • The Country Between Us. New York, NY: In Our Time Arts Media, [1986?]
  • "On the poetry of witness". Aspen, CO: Aspen Writers Foundation, 1989.
  • Carolyn Forché. New York: Academy of American Poets, [1995?]

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[14]


Forché appeared in the Ken Burns Oscar-nominated documentary The Statue of Liberty in 1985.

See alsoEdit


External linksEdit

Audio / video
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