Ivan Allen College’s Ilya Kaminsky Featured in ‘Great Immigrants, Great Americans’ Campaign

Ilya Kaminsky

Posted June 30, 2021

Ilya Kaminsky, the Margaret T. and Henry C. Bourne Jr. Chair in Poetry in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, is featured in the Carnegie Corp.’s “Great Immigrants, Great Americans” campaign, which launches today (June 30, 2021).

The Carnegie campaign honors the contributions of immigrants to American society. Previous honorees have included chef and humanitarian José Andrés, musician David Byrne, designer Diane von Furstenberg, Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan, novelist Yaa Gyasi, and Hall of Fame baseball player Mariano Rivera, along with Nobel Prize recipients, entrepreneurs, artists, scholars, and public servants.

Kaminsky, widely considered one of the top living poets, was born in Odessa, Ukraine — then part of the Soviet Union — and emigrated to the United States as a teenager. He will be featured in a full-page ad published in the New York Times on July 4. His likeness will also appear on 180 LinkNYC kiosks throughout New York.

“I’m humbled and grateful to be included,” Kaminsky said. “So many refugees from so many parts of the world have to leave their homes; so many people are unfortunately being misplaced due to crisis: wars, environmental disasters. I hope this program will be one small way to encourage the United States and other Western countries to help refugees a bit more in this time of misfortune.”

Artists, Activists, Entrepreneurs Among Those Honored

This year’s honorees came from more than 30 countries. The honorees include medical providers and researchers; advocates for disadvantaged, disabled, and disenfranchised people; political change-makers, voting rights advocates, climate change activists, and educators.

Figures joining Kaminsky as part of this year’s campaign include the chairman and CEO of Pfizer, Katalin Karikó; the creator of the Duolingo learning software, Luis von Ahn; actor Helen Mirren; and comedian John Oliver, among others.

“It is deeply satisfying to acknowledge the work of those who have dedicated themselves to a life of service,” said Thomas H. Kean, chairman of the board of Carnegie Corporation of New York and former governor of New Jersey.

Words and Service: Kaminsky’s Callings

Kaminsky’s work has long included a focus on probing crisis and easing those affected by it, including work on behalf of immigrants, refugees, and the homeless. Kaminsky, who in addition to being a word-class poet and university professor is also an attorney, was previously a law clerk at the National Immigration Law Center. He also worked at San Francisco Legal Aid and more recently served pro bono as a court-appointed special advocate helping children in Southern California.

Since joining the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts in 2018, Kaminsky has continued his work aiding marginalized communities, including a workshop to mentor poetry critics from underrepresented communities and poetry readings and gatherings featuring immigrant poets. During the 2021-2022 academic year, Poetry@Tech, which Kaminsky directs, will bring numerous immigrant and refugee poets to campus to speak to students and present their works.

Kaminsky’s latest book of poetry, Deaf Republic, won the National Jewish Book Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award. The book tells the story of a town that uses deafness to protest a brutal military occupation. Kaminksy, who lost most of his hearing as a child, has referred to the book as one about “language in a time of crisis” and as “an intensely political book that calls into question any indifference to oppression or violence, at home or abroad.”

Other accolades for Kaminsky include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Whiting Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Metcalf Award, a Lannan Fellowship, an Academy of American Poets Fellowship, a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship, and Poetry magazine’s Levinson Prize.

The School of Literature, Media, and Communication is a unit of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.

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Great Immigrants Campaign

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Michael Pearson