Arts & culture, People, Awards, Literature

Berkeley Ph.D. student wins American Book Award

By Yasmin Anwar

Craig Santos Perez is winner of a 2015 American Book Award
Craig Santos Perez, a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley, is a winner of the 2015 American Book Awards

Award-winning poet Craig Santos Perez, a Ph.D. candidate in ethnic studies at UC Berkeley and associate professor of English at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, is a 2015 winner of the American Book Award for his collection of poems, from unincorporated territory [guma’].

Perez, 35, joins rock guitarist Carlos Santana as one of this year’s 14 American Book Award winners. Current and previous winners of the award, which include Nobel Prize- and Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist Toni Morrison, are recognized by the Before Columbus Foundation for outstanding literary achievement.

“This recognition is important to me because it brings national awareness to the issues I write about, namely the colonial status of my home island of Guam, and the indigenous struggles of my Chamorro people against the forces of militarism and ecological imperialism,” Perez said.

Perez received his master’s degree in ethnic studies at UC Berkeley in 2009 and went on to be a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry in 2010 before winning the PEN Center USA 2011 Literary Prize for Poetry. His latest book of poetry is his third in a series of works that highlight the colonialism and militarism in Guam, a U.S. territory since 1898.

“A scholar as well as a poet, Craig’s criticism is sharp and sophisticated, and his dissertation brings much-needed attention to the history of indigenous writing in the Pacific,” said Beth Piatote, associate professor of Native American studies at UC Berkeley. “While a student here, he contributed greatly to the intellectual life of our department. We are proud of his accomplishments.”

She described his poetry as “drawing upon uniquely Pacific indigenous aesthetics — the aerial roots of banyan trees, the navigational maps of the oceans, the stone architecture, the weaving of mats — to reveal everyday moments as well as global encounters.”

Perez joined UC Berkeley in 2007, and published his first book during his graduate studies. He was later hired at the University of Hawaii to teach creative writing, and put his dissertation on hold. He published two more books and landed a tenure-track position at UH-Manoa before returning to his dissertation work, which is about indigenous identity, aesthetics, and decolonization in contemporary Chamorro literature.

“He is incredibly accomplished, as well as being an amazingly humble person, and so deserving of this award,” Piatote said.

Perez and fellow American Book Award recipients will be honored on October 25 at a ceremony at the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco.