The widely respected Greek poet, author and playwright Ioannis Valaoritis (often known publicly as “Nanos”) has passed away at age 98.
Valaoritis was one of Greece’s most renowned modern poets. In 2004 the Athens Academy of Letters and Science awarded him the prestigious prize for poetry in recognition of his life’s work while the president of Greece presented him with the Gold Cross of Honor — given for his services to Greek Letters.
He was born in July of 1921 to Greek parents in Lausanne, Switzerland but grew up in Greece where he studied classics and law at Athens University.
Valaoritis’ acquaintance with fellow writer George Seferis in 1944 was instrumental to his early development as a poet. His first poetry collection was published in London in 1947.
After having lived in London, Paris and Athens, he left for the United States in 1968 — one year after the Greek military junta had taken control.
During his time in the USA, Valaoritis taught comparative literature and creative writing at San Francisco State University for 25 years.
The quality, international appeal and influence of Valaoritis’ work has put him among the highest ranks of prolific Greek diaspora poets — including Constantine Cavafy.
A self-described surrealist, the late Swiss-born Greek sometimes created a sense of carnival in his work through parody, pastiche and absurdity.
Valaoritis has family ancestry tracing back to important figures in the 1821 Greek war of independence. He was the great-grandson of Aristotle Valaoritis, a prominent poet and leading politician during Greece’s early years as a nation.
Valaoritis’ wife was late American surrealist artist Marie Wilson (1922-2017).
In the 2013 video below, the poet speaks during an interview (in Greek), where he offers his thoughts on language and poetry.
See the video
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