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Short biography
Anna Balakian was born in Constantinople (now Istanbul), Turkey, to Armenian parents. The family lived in Germany and Switzerland before settling in the USA in 1926. Anna graduated from Hunter College in 1936, and earned her master’s and Ph.D degrees at Columbia University. She taught French literature and language at Hunter College High School and became an assistant professor at Syracuse University. She was also an accomplished violinist who played with the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. In 1945, she married Stepan Nalbantian, a fellow violinist, with whom she had two children. Prof. Balakian became a renowned authority in the fields of Symbolism and Surrealism. In addition, thanks to her fluency in Armenian, French, German, and Spanish as well as English, she became an early developer of the field of comparative literature. In 1953, she was appointed professor of comparative literature at New York University, where she remained until her retirement in 1985, and later served as chairman of the department. She also served as president of the American Comparative Literature Association. Prof. Balakian was a prolific writer of scholarly essays and wrote several books, including The Literary Origins of Surrealism (1947), Surrealism: The Road to the Absolute (1959), and The Snowflake on the Belfry: Dogma and Disquietude in the Critical Arena (1994). With her sister, Nona Balakian, a literary critic and editor at The New York Times Book Review, Prof. Balakian was part of a literary circle that included William Saroyan and Anaïs Nin.
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