MFA Grad Wins National Honor for Poetry

by Mary McInerney, USF News

Craig Santos Perez MFA ’06 won the 2023 National Book Award for poetry for his book, from unincorporated territory [åmot], the fifth work in a series about his native Guam.

“When I started writing, my mission was to inspire the next generation of Pacific Islander authors," Perez said in his acceptance speech Nov. 15 in New York. He concluded by reading the final poem in from unincorporated territory [åmot], "The Pacific Written Tradition."

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Perez is a professor in the English department at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, where he teaches creative writing, eco-poetry, and Pacific literature.

Aaron Shurin, a professor emeritus of the MFA in Writing program at USF and author of 14 books of poetry and prose, paid tribute to Perez.

“He was an extraordinary student who absorbed everything, because everything he needed to do was already in his hand,” Shurin said after the award was announced.

Professor D.A. Powell also had words of praise for Perez.

“Craig really came to USF prepared to learn and grow. He had the idea of writing about the cultural impact of military presence in the Pacific Islands including Guam, Hawaii, and Micronesia,” Powell said, adding Perez worked as a graduate teaching assistant for him.

“The writing, the style, the voice ... this is all Craig,” Powell said. “We are a program that encourages students to write what they know and to find the way to make it theirs. Aaron's great prosodic knowledge certainly inspired Craig. But Craig is one of a kind and that's largely his own doing based on poems and examples we threw his way.”

Literary Hub, a literary culture website, published a question-and-answer interview with Perez this month, and the poet said that USF — including Shurin and Powell — had the most significant impact on his writing education.

“I had amazing teachers during my MFA education at the University of San Francisco,” Perez said. “My most important teachers there include Aaron Shurin, Rusty Morrison, Truong Tran, D.A. Powell, and Rob Halpern.”