Dana Gioia

Dana Gioia

Dana Gioia

Dana Gioia (photo by Star Black)
Born (1950-12-24) December 24, 1950
Hawthorne, California, U.S.
Occupation Writer, critic, poet, businessman
Nationality American
Alma mater Stanford University (B.A.)
Harvard University (M.A.)
Stanford Business School (M.B.A.)
Notable awards Presidential Citizens Medal (2008)
Laetare Medal (2010)
Relatives Ted Gioia

Michael Dana Gioia (/ˈɔɪ.ə/; born December 24, 1950) is an American poet and writer. He spent the first fifteen years of his career writing at night while working for General Foods Corporation. After his 1991 essay "Can Poetry Matter?" in The Atlantic generated international attention, Gioia quit business to pursue writing full-time. He also served as the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) between 2003 and 2009. Gioia has published five books of poetry and three volumes of literary criticism as well as opera libretti, song cycles, translations, and over two dozen literary anthologies.

Gioia is the Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California, where he now teaches.[1] In December 2015 he became the California State Poet Laureate.[2] He currently divides his time between Los Angeles and Sonoma County, California.

Early years

Michael Dana Gioia was born in Hawthorne, California, the son of Michael Gioia and Dorothy Ortez. Gioia grew up in Hawthorne, "speaking Italian in a Mexican neighborhood", he said.[3] He attended Catholic schools for twelve years, including Junipero Serra High School in Gardena.[4] His younger brother is jazz historian Ted Gioia.[5]

Gioia was the first person in his family to go to college and earned a Bachelor of Arts from Stanford University in 1973, a master's degree from Harvard University in 1975, and a Master of Business Administration from Stanford Business School in 1977. As both a graduate and undergraduate, Gioia was editor of Stanford's literary journal the Sequoia Magazine.

Business career

After business school, Gioia joined General Foods in 1977, where he eventually became vice president of marketing. He was on the team that invented Jell-O Jigglers[6] and is credited with helping reverse a long-running sales decline for Jello.[7]

In 1992, Gioia resigned from his position as a vice president at General Foods to pursue a full-time career as a poet.


Although Gioia writes in both free and formal verse, he is usually classified as one of the "New Formalists", who write in traditional forms and have declared that a return to rhyme and more fixed meters is the new avant-garde. He is a particular proponent of accentual verse.[8] While working at General Foods, Gioia wrote in the evenings, producing several books of poetry and translation.

Gioia has written several collections of criticisms. In his landmark 1991 essay "Can Poetry Matter?" Gioia objects to how marginalized poetry has become in America.[9] He believes that university English departments appropriated the field from the public:

"The voluntary audience of serious contemporary poetry consists mainly of poets, would-be poets, and a few critics. Additionally, there is a slightly larger involuntary and ephemeral audience consisting of students who read contemporary poetry as assigned course work. In sociological terms, it is surely significant that most members of the poetry subculture are literally paid to read poetry: most established poets and critics now work for large educational institutions. Over the last half-century, literary bohemia had been replaced by an academic bureaucracy."

Gioia has written or co-written over two dozen literary anthologies and college textbooks, including An Introduction to Poetry (with X. J. Kennedy). He has also written many essays and reviews. He also wrote a column for San Francisco magazine as their music critic.


It was as a poet that Gioia first began to attract widespread attention in the early 1980s, with frequent appearances in The Hudson Review, Poetry, and The New Yorker. In the same period, he published a number of essays and book reviews. Both his poetry and his prose helped to establish him as one of the leading figures in the New Formalist movement, which emphasized a return to traditional poetic techniques such as rhyme, meter, and fixed form, and to narrative and non-autobiographical subject matter.

As a result, Daily Horoscope (1986), his first collection, was one of the most anticipated and widely discussed poetry volumes of its time. Its contents range widely in form, length and theme. Among its more notable—and widely reprinted—pieces are "California Hills in August", "In Cheever Country", and "The Sunday News".

The Gods of Winter (1991), his second collection contains "Planting a Sequoia" about the tragic loss of his infant son, as well as the long dramatic monologues, "Counting the Children", in which an accountant has a disturbing interaction with a grotesque doll collection, and "The Homecoming", in which a murderer explains his motivations for returning home to commit one more murder. Simultaneously published in Britain, it was chosen as the main selection of the U.K. Poetry Book Society.

Interrogations at Noon (2001), Gioia's third collection, was the winner of the 2002 American Book Award. It includes both translation and many original poems in which contemplative and occasionally wistful notes predominate, as in the concluding stanza of "Summer Storm": "And memory insists on pining / For places it never went, / As if life would be happier / Just by being different." His poem "Words" explores the power and limits of language to understand the world. Many of the other poems examine the lives of poets, painters, and composers.

Pity the Beautiful (2012) marked Gioia's return to poetry after his term in public office as chairman of the NEA. As with his previous books of poetry, it featured both metrical verse and free verse. "Special Treatments Ward" garnered notice for its description of a pediatric cancer ward. "Haunted", the central poem in the collection, is a long dramatic monologue that is both love story and ghost story.

99 Poems: New & Selected (2016) is Gioia's latest book of poetry. It collects his old poems along with several new poems.

In December 2015, Gioia was named Poet Laureate of California. As Poet Laureate, Gioia intends to visit each of the state's 58 counties and give a poetry reading.[10][11] Gioia has emphasized visiting smaller and mid-sized communities, saying:

"My life changed for the better by falling in love with poetry. It made me a better student, made me a more alert human being. And I'd like to try to bring the gifts of poetry to the broadest audience possible." [12]

Gioia's poetry is anthologized in The Norton Anthology of Poetry, The Oxford Book of American Poetry, and several other anthologies. His poems have been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Chinese, and Arabic.

Music and opera

Dana Gioia has frequently collaborated with musicians. Trained in music, he had originally hoped to become a composer before deciding to pursue poetry. Gioia's poetry has been set to music in many contemporary styles including classical, jazz, rock, opera, and country. The classical composers with whom he has worked include Ned Rorem, Lori Laitman, Morten Lauridsen, Paul Salerni, Alva Henderson, David Conte, Tom Cipullo, Stefania de Kenessey, and John Harbison, among many others. His jazz collaborators include Dave Brubeck, Paquito D'Rivera, and Helen Sung.

Gioia's most significant musical collaborations have been in opera. Gioia has written three opera libretti. His first opera, Nosferatu, with music by Alva Henderson, was jointly premiered by Rimrock Opera and Opera Idaho in 2004.[13] His second libretto, Tony Caruso's Final Broadcast, with music by Paul Salerni, won the National Opera Association award for best new chamber opera and was premiered in Los Angeles in 2008.[14] Both of these works have been recorded. His latest opera, The Three Feathers, with music by Lori Laitman, was premiered by Virginia Technical University and Opera Roanoke in 2014.[15]

NEA chairman

In 2002, Gioia was nominated as NEA Chairman by President George W. Bush. Gioia served as chairman from 2003 to 2009, and worked to bring new visibility to the agency through a series of national initiatives that stressed broad democratic reach and artistic excellence. He believed that neither the arts nor art education should be divisive or partisan issues and made a point to reach out to NEA critics in the United States Congress in an effort to find common ground. As a practical matter, Gioia expanded the agency's reach to put at least one NEA grant in every congressional district. Gioia's reasoning for this initiative was to guarantee that the NEA was serving Americans in all parts of the country and to acquaint every member of Congress with at least one arts organization in their district.

With the support of both Congressional Democrats and Republicans, Gioia gained a $20.1 million increase[16] in his agency's budget and for the remainder of his tenure, silenced the perpetual requests from conservatives to defund the agency. "Dana is a superb politician. He knows how to talk to Congress and to the arts community, and to state and federal agencies and to the complex, gigantic, fire-breathing beast called the White House," said David Gelernter of Yale University. Bill Kauffman called Gioia "the best poet in government service since President Tyler sent John Howard Payne, who wrote 'Home! Sweet Home!' to Tunis." In November 2006, Business Week magazine profiled Gioia as "The Man Who Saved the NEA".[17] Five years after Gioia left office, The Washington Post referred to him as one of "two of the NEA's strongest leaders".[18]

Gioia stepped down from the NEA in January 2009 to return to poetry.[19][20]

NEA national initiatives

While Chairman, Gioia created several national initiatives each around a specific art. "We have a generation of Americans growing up who have never been to the theater, the symphony, opera, dance, who have never heard fine jazz, and who increasingly don't read," said Gioia,[21] in justifying his efforts to bring large scale national initiatives of artistic excellence to millions of Americans. The late New York Times columnist William Safire referred to Gioia's NEA national initiatives as "A Gioia to Behold".[22]

His program "Shakespeare in American Communities" gave grants to more than 40 American theatre companies to tour small and medium-sized communities.[23] Since the launch of the program in 2003, the tours have visited thousands of communities in all 50 states and more than 4,000 schools, were seen by millions of students, and provided work for hundreds of actors, directors, and crew.

His program The Big Read aimed to increase literacy across America. In June 2004, the NEA released a research publication, Reading At Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, that detailed a 20-year decline in literary reading among American adults. As a writer, Gioia found this a dangerous trend for a democracy that relies on an informed, engaged citizenry. In response, Gioia created another national initiative, The Big Read. Based on the "one city, one book" concept, The Big Read brought together partner organizations across the country to encourage entire communities to read the same book. It was launched as a pilot program with ten communities in 2006, and went national in 2007, eventually becoming the largest literary program in the history of the federal government. Millions of dollars[24] in NEA grants have supported Big Read programs with more than 25,000 local organizations, including libraries, museums, newspapers, mayors' offices, and private businesses. It also became a vehicle for international cultural exchange with Big Read programs in Russia, Egypt, and Mexico.

In 2006, Gioia created Poetry Out Loud, a national poetry recitation contest for students. Each year, some 375,000 students participate, beginning at the high school classroom level. Classroom winners advance to school-wide recitation competitions, and school champions advance to regional and state competitions, and ultimately to the National Finals in Washington, DC. The winner receives a $20,000 scholarship. In an interview[25] with Poetry Daily, Gioia noted that the competitive aspect of the program inspires both the students and the audience. "We did not predict that aspect of the Poetry Out Loud, but it was apparent from the first time we held a public event. The audience displayed an intensity of attention that is very rare at ordinary poetry readings."

Gioia also expanded re-energized the NEA Jazz Masters, which is the nation's highest honor in jazz music, in order to raise the visibility of artists who he felt were undervalued in their own country. Gioia believed the NEA Jazz Master award should be the jazz equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize. As part of the NEA Jazz Masters initiative, Gioia created NEA Jazz Masters on Tour, to give artists more opportunities to perform live, and NEA Jazz in the Schools, a web-based curriculum produced in partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center.

NEA outreach to military personnel and families

Gioia's term as NEA Chairman coincided with the peak of U.S. involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. During that time, Gioia worked to include the military and military families in NEA national initiatives. He expanded his "Shakespeare in American Communities" program to include tours to military bases. The NEA also sent young artist programs from opera companies around the country to military bases with the Great American Voices Military Base Tour.[26]

In 2004, Gioia launched Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, which collected writings from U.S. troops and their families about their wartime experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, and stateside. Between 2004 and 2009, Operation Homecoming conducted more than 60 writing workshops for troops, their families, and veterans at military installations across the country and in war zones. Many of the writings were collected in the anthology Operation Homecoming. The anthology was named one of the "Best of 2006" non-fiction by The Washington Post. There is an archive of writings housed at the Library of Congress. A documentary based on Operation Homecoming, produced by the Documentary Group, was nominated for a 2006 Academy Award.

Prizes and awards

Dana Gioia has won several prizes and received 11 honorary doctorates.

In 2007, Gioia gave the commencement speech for his alma mater, Stanford University. In May 2014, National Public Radio included Gioia's speech on its list of "The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever", dating back to 1774.[27] In his speech Gioia discussed the low esteem in which American society holds its artists.

Personal life

On February 23, 1980, he and Mary Elizabeth Hiecke (born May 26, 1953) were married. They had three sons, Michael Jasper Gioia (who died in infancy); Michael Frederick "Mike" Gioia; and Theodore Jasper "Ted" Gioia. His poem "Planting a Sequoia" is based on his experience of losing his infant son.





Opera libretti



Writings about Dana Gioia and his work

See also


  1. Pulliam, Russ. "WORLD Magazine: Modern man of letters". WorldMag.com. Retrieved 2010-07-18.
  2. Gioia, Dana; Wares, Donna, "Being a California Poet", My California: Journeys by Great Writers
  3. Stanford.edu
  4. Goodyear, Dana (February 19, 2007), "The Moneyed Muse: What can two hundred million dollars do for poetry?", The New Yorker
  5. Christy Spackman (August 17, 2012). "Mormonism's Jell-O Mold". Slate.com. Retrieved August 17, 2012.
  6. "Accentual verse", Dana Gioia
  7. "Can Poetry Matter? - 91.05". www.theatlantic.com. Retrieved 2016-07-23.
  8. "To rhyme's no crime, says poet Dana Gioia". Retrieved 2016-07-23.
  9. "Hitting the Road With California's Poet Laureate". 2016-07-10. Retrieved 2016-07-23.
  10. "Poet and former NEA chair Dana Gioia named California poet laureate". Retrieved 2016-07-23.
  11. The Washington Post
  12. Trescott, Jacqueline (2008-09-12). "Arts Agency Chairman Is Moving On". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-07-23.
  13. "Gioia Leaves NEA After Changing Debate Over Arts Funding - The New York Sun". www.nysun.com. Retrieved 2016-07-23.
  14. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/07/arts/07gioia.html
  15. Safire, William (2004-03-08). "A Gioia To Behold". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-07-23.
  16. NEA
  17. "The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever". Retrieved March 15, 2015.


External links

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