Ilya Kaminsky is a hard of hearing Russian-Jewish-American poet, critic, translator, and professor, whose latest collection, Deaf Republic (2019), is forthcoming from Graywolf Press.
Ilya Kaminsky was born in the former Soviet Union city of Odessa. He lost most of his hearing at the age of four after a doctor misdiagnosed mumps as a cold, and his family was granted political asylum by the United States in 1993, settling in Rochester, New York.
After his father’s death in 1994, Kaminsky began to write poems in English. He explained in an interview with the Adirondack Review, “I chose English because no one in my family or friends knew it—no one I spoke to could read what I wrote. I myself did not know the language. It was a parallel reality, an insanely beautiful freedom. It still is.”
Kaminsky went on to earn a B.A. in political science at Georgetown University and a J.D. at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. With Paloma Capanna, he co-founded Poets for Peace, which sponsors poetry readings across the globe to support relief work. He has also worked as a clerk for the National Immigration Law Center and for Bay Area Legal Aid.
Kaminsky is the author of Dancing in Odessa (2004), which won the Tupelo Press Dorset Prize, the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Metcalf Award, and ForeWord Magazine’s Best Poetry Book of the Year award, and has been translated into French and Romanian. Traveling Musicians (2007) is a selection of his poems originally written in Russian. His most recent collection is Deaf Republic (2019).
Deaf Republic opens in an occupied country in a time of political unrest. When soldiers breaking up a protest kill a deaf boy, Petya, the gunshot becomes the last thing the citizens hear—all have gone deaf, and their dissent becomes coordinated by sign language. The story follows the private lives of townspeople encircled by public violence: a newly married couple, Alfonso and Sonya, expecting a child; the brash Momma Galya, instigating the insurgency from her puppet theater; and Galya’s girls, heroically teaching signs by day and by night luring soldiers one by one to their deaths behind the curtain. At once a love story, an elegy, and an urgent plea—Kaminsky’s long-awaited Deaf Republic confronts our time’s vicious atrocities and our collective silence in the face of them.
Kaminsky also co-edited, with Susan Harris, the Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (2010), and edited and co-translated Polina Barskova’s This Lamentable City (2010). He has also served as the editor of the online journal In Posse Review. Kaminsky’s honors include a Whiting Writers’ Award, the Milton Center’s Award for Excellence in Writing, the Florence Kahn Memorial Award, Poetry magazine’s Levinson Prize as well as their Ruth Lilly Fellowship, Philips Exeter Academy’s George Bennett Fellowship, and a Lannan Foundation fellowship. He lives in San Diego where he teaches in the M.F.A. program at San Diego State University.