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Dana Gioia

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Dana Gioia

Dana Gioia
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)

Michael Dana Gioia (born December 24, 1950) is an American poet and writer. Gioia also served as the Chairman of the federal arts agency the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). He was born in Hawthorne, California to Italian and Mexican parents, attended Stanford and Harvard Universities, and 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 The Atlantic generated international attention, Gioia quit business to pursue writing full-time. Gioia has published four books of poetry and three volumes of literary criticism as well as opera libretti, song cycles, translations, and over two dozen literary anthologies.

In August 2011, Gioia became Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California where he now teaches.[1] He currently divides his time between Los Angeles and Sonoma County, California.


  • Early years 1
  • Business career 2
  • Writing 3
  • Poetry 4
  • Music and Opera 5
  • NEA chairman 6
    • NEA national initiatives 6.1
    • NEA outreach to military personnel and families 6.2
  • Stanford Speech 7
  • Prizes and Awards 8
  • Personal life 9
  • Books 10
    • Poetry 10.1
    • Criticism 10.2
    • Translation 10.3
    • Opera Libretti 10.4
    • Edited 10.5
    • Contributor 10.6
  • Writings about Dana Gioia and his work 11
  • See also 12
  • Notes 13
  • References 14
  • External links 15

Early years

Michael Dana Gioia—his surname is pronounced "JOY-uh"—was born in Hawthorne, California, the son of Michael Gioia and Dorothy Ortez. His younger brother is jazz historian Ted Gioia.[2] 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, California.[4]

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. From 1971–73, he was editor of Sequoia Magazine and then its poetry editor from 1975–77.

Business career

After business school, Gioia joined General Foods Corporation in 1977, where he eventually became vice president of marketing. He was on the team that invented Jell-O Jigglers and [5] is credited with reversing a long-running sales decline for Jello.[6]

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.[7] While working at General Foods Gioia wrote in the evenings, producing several books of poetry and translation.

After becoming a full-time writer, Gioia also served as vice-president of the Poetry Society of America from 1992 and as music critic for San Francisco magazine in 1997.

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. 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 also 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.


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) was a much deeper and darker book than its predecessor. It contains “Planting a Sequoia”, his most direct engagement of the tragic loss of his infant son, as well as two long dramatic monologues, “Counting the Children”, in which an accountant has a disturbing interaction with a grotesque doll collection, and “The Homecoming”, whose narrator explains his motivations for committing 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.” "Words" explores the power and limits of language to understand the world. Other poems examine the lives of poets, painters, and composers.

Pity the Beautiful (2012) marked Gioia's return to poetry with this full length collection of verse. As with his other 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 both a love story and a ghost story. The themes of the collection, love, death and memory, are seen in many poems.

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 almost every contemporary style from classical and jazz to rock and country. The classical composers with whom he has worked include Ned Rorem, Lori Laitman, 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 (opera)", with music by Alva Henderson, was jointly premiered by Rimrock Opera and Opera Idaho in 2004.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

NEA chairman

In 2002, Gioia was nominated as NEA Chairman by President 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 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”. Five years after Gioia left office, the Washington Post referred to him as one of "two of the NEA's strongest leaders". Gioia stepped down from the NEA in January 2009.

NEA national initiatives

While Chairman, Gioia created national initiatives such as Shakespeare in American Communities, which supported tours to small- and medium-sized communities by more than 40 American theatre companies with grants of $25,000.[11] Since the launch of the program in 2003, the tours 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. The late New York Times columnist William Safire referred to this and other NEA national initiatives as "A Gioia to Behold”.

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, 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[13] 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. "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,[14] in justifying his efforts to bring large scale national initiatives of artistic excellence to millions of Americans.

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. Shakespeare in American Communities was expanded to include tours to military bases—which were warmly embraced by audiences. The NEA also sent young artist programs from opera companies around the country to military bases with the Great American Voices Military Base Tour.

In 2004, Gioia launched Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, which collected writings from U.S. troops and their families about the 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 (book). 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.

Stanford Speech

In 2007, Gioia gave the commencement speech for his alma mater, Stanford University. In his speech Gioia discussed the low esteem in which American society holds its artists. "...we live in a culture that barely acknowledges and rarely celebrates the arts or artists ... When virtually all of a culture's celebrated figures are in sports or entertainment, how few possible role models we offer the young ... There are so many other ways to lead a successful and meaningful life that are not denominated by money or fame. Adult life begins in a child's imagination, and we've relinquished that imagination to the marketplace." In May 2014, National Public Radio included Gioia's speech on its list of "The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever", dating back to 1774.[15]

Prizes and Awards

Dana Gioia has won several prizes. He won the Frederick Bock Award for poetry in 1986. For his 1991 poetry collection The Gods of Winter, Gioia shared the 1992 Poet's Prize with Adrienne Rich. Gioia won the 2002 American Book Award for his collection Interrogations at Noon. Gioia has received eleven honorary doctorates. In 2005, Dana Gioia received the John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry. In 2010, Gioia was announced as the recipient of the Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame, an honor traditionally given to an American Roman Catholic in recognition of outstanding service to the Church and to society. In 2008, Gioia was inducted into the College of Fellows of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology.[16] He won the 2014 Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry. On November 17, 2008, Gioia was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal by President George W. Bush.

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 real experience of losing his infant son.



  • Daily Horoscope (1986)
  • The Gods of Winter (1991)
  • Interrogations at Noon (2001)
  • Pity the Beautiful (2012)


  • Can Poetry Matter? (1991)
  • Barrier of a Common Language: An American Looks at Contemporary British Poetry (Poets on Poetry) (2003)
  • Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of Print Culture (2004)


  • Eugenio Montale's Motteti: Poem's of Love (translator) (1990)
  • The Madness of Hercules (Hercules Furens) (translator). Included in Seneca: The Tragedies, Volume II, published by Johns Hopkins (1995)

Opera Libretti

  • Nosferatu (2001)
  • Tony Caruso's Last Broadcast (2005)
  • The Three Feathers (2014)


  • "Poems from Italy (editor, with William Jay Smith) (1985)
  • New Italian Poets (editor, with Michael Palma) (1991)
  • Certain Solitudes: On the Poetry of Donald Justice (editor, with William Logan) (1998)
  • California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present (California Legacy) (editor, with Chryss Yost and Jack Hicks) (2003)
  • The Misread City: New Literary Los Angeles (editor, with Scott Timberg) (2003)
  • Twentieth-Century American Poetry (editor, with David Mason and Meg Schoerke) (2004)
  • An Introduction to Poetry, 13th edition(editor, with X.J. Kennedy) (2010)


  • My California: Journeys by Great Writers (contributor / 2004)
  • This Man's Army. A War in Fifty Sonnets by John Allan Wyeth (introduction/2008)

Writings about Dana Gioia and his work

  • Matthew Brennan. Dana Gioia. A Critical Introduction. (Story Line Press Critical Monographs) (2012)
  • April Lindner. Dana Gioia (Boise State University Western Writers Series, No. 143) (2003)
  • Jack W. C. Hagstrom and Bill Morgan. Dana Gioia: A Descriptive Bibliography with Critical Essays (2002)
  • Janet McCann, "Dana Gioia: A Contemporary Metaphysics", Renascence 61.3 (Spring 2009): 193-205.
  • Michael Peich. Dana Gioia and Fine Press Printing (Kelly/Winterton Press0 (2000)

See also


  1. ^ [7]
  2. ^
  3. ^ Pulliam, Russ. "WORLD Magazine: Modern man of letters".  
  4. ^ Gioia, Dana; Wares, Donna, "Being a California Poet", My California: Journeys by Great Writers 
  5. ^ Goodyear, Dana (February 19, 2007), "The Moneyed Muse: What can two hundred million dollars do for poetry?", The New Yorker 
  6. ^ Christy Spackman (August 17, 2012). "Mormonism’s Jell-O Mold".  
  7. ^ "Accentual verse", Dana Gioia
  8. ^ [8]
  9. ^ [9]
  10. ^ [10]
  11. ^ NEA
  12. ^ [11]
  13. ^ [12]
  14. ^
  15. ^ "The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever". Retrieved March 15, 2015. 
  16. ^ College of Fellow's entry for Dana Gioia, home page of the DSPT


  • American Perspectives. C-SPAN. February 21, 2004. (Presentation of talk Gioia gave at the Agassi Theatre, Harvard University, February 9, 2004).
  • Cynthia Haven. "Dana Gioia Goes to Washington". Commonweal. November 21, 2003.
  • Cynthia Haven. "Poet Provocateur", Stanford Magazine, July/August 2000.
  • Belinda Lanks. "Bush Picks Poet for NEA", ARTnews December 2002
  • John J. Miller. "Up from Mapplethorpe". National Review. March 8, 2004.
  • Jim Milliot. "Gioia vows to change America's reading habits." Publishers Weekly. June 27, 2005.
  • "Reviving the Bard" (editorial). The New Criterion. December 2003.
  • Bruce Weber. "Poet Brokers Truce in Culture Wars." The New York Times. September 7, 2004.
  • World Authors 1990–1995. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1999

External links

  • Quotations related to Dana Gioia at Wikiquote
  • Conversation with Dana Gioia and Deborah Borda – October 7, 2009
  • Directory of official NEA pages at the Wayback Machine
  • Dana Gioia official page
  • Text of 2007 Stanford Commencement address
  • President Bush Presents National Medal of Arts, Awards Cultural LeadersNational Endowment for the Arts –
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
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