Dennis Nurkse was born on December 13, 1949, in New Jersey, the son of Estonian economist Ragnar Nurkse. He received his BA from Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts, and worked as a factory worker throughout the 1970s. He has also worked as a construction worker, grant writer, human rights representative to the United Nations, street musician, kindergarten teacher, translator, bartender, and harpsichord builder, among others.
Nurkse is the author of ten poetry collections, including, most recently, A Night in Brooklyn (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), The Border Kingdom (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), and Burnt Island (Alfred A. Knopf, 2006).
In his review of A Night in Brooklyn, poet Philip Levine writes: “He possesses the ability to employ the language of our American streets, shops, bars, factories, and any place else and construct truly lyrical poems, sometimes of love, sometimes of anger.”
Nurkse’s honors include awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Whiting Foundation, as well as fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was appointed Brooklyn poet laureate in 1996 and served in the position until 2001. Nurkse has taught poetry at Brooklyn College, The New School, Rikers Island Correctional Facility, Rutgers University, and University of Southern Maine. He currently teaches in the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College.