John Balaban

John Balaban. Courtesy Giao Duyen.

John B. Balaban (born December 2, 1943) is an American poet and translator, and an authority on Vietnamese literature.[1]


Balaban was born in a housing project neighborhood in Philadelphia to Romanian immigrant parents, Phillip and Alice Georgies Balaban.[2][3] His father taught himself calculus, invented a model airplane, and studied engineering in Romania, while his mother was a peasant with "almost no education".[3]

Balaban wrote his 1st poem at the age of 8 or 9, and cites the influence of show tunes that his elder sisters used to sing while washing the dishes after dinner.[3]

He became a Quaker at the age of 16, while searching for alternatives to the violence in his neighborhood.[2] He obtained a B.A. with highest honors in English from Pennsylvania State University in 1966. A Woodrow Wilson Fellowship that he received in his senior year at the university allowed him to study English literature at Harvard University, where he received his A.M.[2]

During the Vietnam War, Balaban was a conscientious objector; He went to Vietnam with the International Volunteer Services where he taught at a university until it was bombed in the Tet Offensive. He was wounded in the shoulder by shrapnel and evacuated; after his recovery, he worked to save burned and injured children from the war. He left Vietnam in 1969, but returned in 1971 to work on Ca Dao Viet Nam, a collection of poems in the Ca Dao folk tradition.[3][4]

Balaban's 1st published collection of verse, After Our War (1974), was a Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets. In 2000, he released Spring essence, a collection of poems by Hồ Xuân Hương, an 18th century poet and the preeminent woman poet of Vietnam. The book included English translations and versions in both the current Vietnamese alphabet and the historical Chữ Nôm writing system.

Balaban has written other works that draw on his experiences in Vietnam. His anthology Locusts at the Edge of Summer: New and Selected Poems won the 1998 William Carlos Williams Award.[5] He is currently Poet in residence and professor of English in the creative writing program of North Carolina State University.[6]

Recognition Edit

  • 2003 Guggenheim Fellowship
  • 1998 William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America



  • Vietnam Poems. Oxford, UK: Carcanet, 1970.
  • After Our War. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1974.
  • Blue Mountain. Greensboro, NC: Unicorn, 1982.
  • Words for My Daughter: Poems. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 1991.
  • Locusts at the Edge of Summer: New and selected poems. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 1997, 2003.
  • Path, Crooked Path. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2006.
  • Like Family: Eleven poems. Red Wing, MN: Red Dragonfly Press, 2011.


  • Coming Down Again: A novel. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985; New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989.


  • Vietnam: The land we never knew (photos by Geoffrey Clifford). San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1989.
  • Remembering Heaven's Face: A moral witness in Vietnam. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991


  • The Hawk's Tale (illustrated by David Delamare). San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988.


  • Vietnam: A traveler's literary companion (with Qui Duc Nguyen). San Francisco: Whereabouts Press, 1996.
  • Spring Essence, The poetry of Ho Xuan Huong. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2000.
  • Ca Dao, Viet Nam: A bilingual anthology of Vietnamese folk poetry. Greensboro, NC: Unicorn Press, 1980; Oakville, ON: Mosaic Press, 1980.
    • also published as Ca Dao, Viet Nam: Vietnamese folk poetry. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2003.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[7]

Audio / videoEdit

Weekly Poem 'Georgi Borrisov in Paris' by John Balaban

Weekly Poem 'Georgi Borrisov in Paris' by John Balaban

  • John Balaban (tape). Kansas City, MO: New Letters, 1983.
  • Recordings from 'Ca Dao, Viet Nam: Vietnamese folk poetry' (CD). Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2003.

Except where noted, discographical information courtesy WorldCat.[7]

See alsoEdit


  1. The Poetry Center at Smith College: John Balaban, accessed 19 September 2007.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Baughman, Ronald. Excerpt from Dictionary of Literary Biography, accessed 9 July 2010.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Saha, Ankur (2009). "John Balaban Interview". KAURAB Online. Retrieved 9 July 2010. 
  4. Purdy, Gilbert Wesley (August 2003). Jacket magazine. review of Ca Dao Viet Nam, accessed 19 September 2007.
  5. Interview and information from Barns & Noble, accessed 19 September 2007.
  6. Faculty of English Department at North Carolina State University, accessed 19 September 2007.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Search results = au:John Balaban, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Apr. 23, 2014.

External linksEdit

Audio / video
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. (view article). (view authors).
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.