Perillo says she finds inspiration in “the science section of the newspaper, for the pictures. An eleventh-century skull of a female vampire exhumed recently—we know she’s a vampire because someone wedged a brick in her mouth. We do not need more than that to get going.”
Raised in a small Hudson River town in New York during the 1960s, Lucia Perillo began her career working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after graduating from McGill University in Montreal in 1979 with a degree in Wildlife Management. She went on to work as a park ranger at Mount Rainer National Park and as a naturalist at the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge before being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in her thirties. As working outdoors became increasingly difficult, Perillo decided to change careers. She completed her M.A. in English at Syracuse University in 1986 and dedicated her life to teaching and writing.
Her first book, The Body Mutinies (1996), won her the PEN/Revson foundation Poetry Fellowship while still in manuscript, and Dangerous Life (1989), received the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. The Oldest Map with the Name America(1999) won the praise of poet Billy Collins. “Born on the same day the Big Bopper perished—one of her poems tells us—Lucia Perillo is a poet of culture, high and low,” Collins extols. “I love the way she allows it all to flood into her work, how she welcomes Bart Simpson and Edward Hopper, Harrison Ford and Heraclitus, Pliny and Edith Piaf. These poems are lively, various, beautiful—some collected, most new, and all aimed precisely at the reader.” Her work to this point made her a 2000 MacArthur Fellow, otherwise known as the Genius Award.
In 2005 her book Luck is Luck (2005), was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize, was included in the New York Public Library’s “Books to Remember,” and won the Kingsley Tufts Prize from Claremont University. In the same year, she published a book of essays, I’ve Heard the Vultures Singing: Field Notes on Poetry, Illness, and Nature.
Last year, the Pulitzer committee, upon selecting her newest book Inseminating the Elephantas a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, praised her saying: “Lucia Perillo examines popular culture, the limits of the human body, and the tragicomic aspects of everyday experience.” Lucia Perillo has taught at Syracuse University, Saint Martin’s College, Warren Wilson, and Southern Illinois University. She lives with her husband, James Rudy, in Olympia, Washington.
Inseminating the Elephant (2009)
I’ve Heard the Vultures Singing: Field Notes on Poetry, Illness, and Nature (2007)
Luck Is Luck: Poems (2005)
The Oldest Map with the Name America (1999)
The Body Mutinies (1996)
Dangerous Life (1989)
Listen to Lucia Perillo read her poem “The Second Slaughter”
The Poetry Foundation interviews Lucia Perillo (June 2009)
Poem: “This Red T-Shirt” in The New Yorker (May 2010)