The son of immigrant parents who met in an English-as-second-language class in New York City, Nils Peterson was just four years old when he went to his grandparents’ farm in Sweden for a few weeks. He came home speaking Swedish, English forgotten—his gift for language clearly coming early. In 1963, by then a young professor of English literature, Nils arrived here to teach at San Jose State. He and new wife Judith had driven straight from New Jersey, all they owned packed in their car, a baby on the way.

Today, as award-winning poet, beloved teacher, San Jose State University professor emeritus, and cofounder and guiding force behind the Poetry Center San Jose since 1980, Nils is an artist of profound presence. Through song, paint, pen, and, of course, language, he demonstrates a creative capacity as diverse as his collaborations. He has worked on projects with artists, musicians, and writers, including artists Harry Powers and Steve French, conductor Charlene Archibeque, and poet Robert Bly. Paintings by Patrick
Surgalski accompany Nils’ stunning new poetry collection, All the Marvelous Stuff.

Nils’ ability to engage others in their own creative enterprise is equally profound. He has inspired hundreds of local poets through innumerable workshops and public performances, including his famous Valentine’s Day Reading, when he leads the audience in singing “Some Enchanted Evening.” As Santa Clara County’s first poet laureate, he established the annual Poetry Invitational at San Jose Museum of Art that continues to engage poets with artworks today.

Nils’ poems pay fierce yet tender attention to the seen world. He reflects deeply on close observations and our human situation. He often looks back at his early years, the scope of change he’s witnessed, and the enduring influence of his father. Though he remembers himself as “not an especially triumphant boy,” as honored poet, teacher, and generous member of the arts community, Nils continues to bring readers “all the marvelous stuff.” 

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