Neil Aitken is the author of two books of poetry, Babbage’s Dream (Sundress 2017) and The Lost Country of Sight (Anhinga 2008), which won the Philip Levine Prize. His poetry chapbook, Leviathan (Hyacinth Girl Press 2016) was awarded an Elgin Prize for Sci Fi Poetry. He is the founding editor of Boxcar Poetry Review (2006-2021) and Boxcar Chapbooks (2022-), creator of Have Book Will Travel (a web resource for authors and reading series), and host of The Lit Fantastic, a podcast about authors and their obsessions. He also co-directs De-Canon: A Visibility Project, a web resource examining and interrogating the intersections of race, literature, canon-making, education, and publishing. New YouTube projects include: Fantastic Descriptions (a deep dive into narrative description for roleplaying games) and The Hermit Poetry Series (a thrice-weekly reading of contemporary poetry). You can also find him streaming The Long Dark on Twitch as babbaginator.
A past Kundiman Poetry Fellow, Neil has coached other writers through AWP’s Writer to Writer program, the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild’s Mentorship program, and The Writers’ Union of Canada’s Mentorship Microgrant program. He served as the Virtual Writer-in-Residence for the Saskatchewan Writers Guild during Fall 2020 and worked remotely with rural writers throughout the province. He later served 10 months as the Regina Public Library’s Writer-in-Residence (2021-2022). Neil presently works as a creative writing coach and manuscript consultant for writers all over the US, Canada, and beyond.
Neil has published poetry, essays, and translations in many literary journals and anthologies, as well as on buses, in a mathematics journal, and even as the center piece of a high concept fashion magazine. His poetry has appeared in The Adroit Journal, American Literary Review, The Collagist, Crab Orchard Review, I.T Magazine, Lantern Review, Ninth Letter, Southern Poetry Review, and many other literary journals.
Neil holds a PhD in Literature & Creative Writing from the University of Southern California and an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside, as well as a BS in Computer Science with Mathematics minor from Brigham Young University. He has collaborated with a number of talented music composers, including Juhi Bansal, Brandon Scott Rumsey, Jeffrey Parola, Zhou Tian, Zhao Zixiang, and Daniel Gall. Working with composer Juhi Bansal, he wrote the libretto for The Edge of a Dream, a 22-minute opera commissioned by LA Opera for their Secondary In-School Opera program that was subsequently produced and performed by 12 Los Angeles high schools in 2020. He also co-wrote the narrative poem used as the voice over script for Libangbang, an animated short by Tseng Chia-Chi.
As a Chinese-English translator, Neil has worked with poet-translator Ming Di to translate The Book of Cranes: Selected Poems of Zang Di (Vagabond 2015) as well as many of Ming Di’s own first selected poems, which were published as The River Merchant’s Wife. His co-translations of Jiang Hao, Jiang Li, Jiang Tao, Lü De’an, Lü Yue, Sun Wenbo, and Zang Di are also prominently featured in New Cathay: Contemporary Chinese Poetry, 1990-2012 (Tupelo 2013). He was awarded the DJS Translation Prize in 2011 and serves as a contributing editor and board member of Poetry East West.
Of Chinese and Scottish descent, Neil was born in Vancouver, BC and grew up in Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and various parts of western United States and Canada. His first book explores the themes of home, exile, and return through the lens of memory and forgetting. The poems in his second book draw heavily on the history of the computer, the life of 19th-century mathematician Charles Babbage, various AIs from film and literature, the lyric nature of programming language, and his own experiences as a computer programmer. These topics also figure prominently in both the creative and critical parts of his dissertation on 19th-century literary and popular representations of artificial intelligence.
Neil is an active member of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Performers), AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs), The League of Canadian Poets, PEN USA, Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild, and Writers Union of Canada. He serves as the International Regional Chair for Kundiman and previously served as the Chair of the Nominating Committee for The Writers’ Union of Canada, and the Saskatchewan Regional Representative for The League of Canadian Poets.
Neil lives in Vancouver, BC, on land that is the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) First Nation. He is currently pursuing a Master’s in Library & Information Science at UBC and expects to complete his studies in 2025.