Dana Gioia

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Dana Gioia
Dana Gioia
Gioia in 2015
Born (1950-12-24) December 24, 1950 (age 73)
Hawthorne, California, U.S.
OccupationPoet, arts advocate, critic
Alma materStanford University (B.A.)
Harvard University (M.A.)
Stanford Business School (M.B.A.)
Notable awardsAmerican Book Award (2002)
Presidential Citizens Medal (2008)
Laetare Medal (2010)
RelativesTed Gioia (brother)

Michael Dana Gioia (/ˈɔɪ.ə/; born December 24, 1950) is an American poet, literary critic, literary translator, and essayist.

Since the early 1980s, Gioia has been considered part of the highly controversial and countercultural literary movements within American poetry known as New Formalism, which advocates the continued writing of poetry in rhyme and meter, and New Narrative, which advocates the telling of non-autobiographical stories. Gioia has also argued in favor of a return to the past tradition of poetry translators replicating the rhythm and verse structure of the original poem.

Gioia helped renew the popularity of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the rediscovery of Weldon Kees and John Allan Wyeth. He also co-founded the annual West Chester University Poetry Conference, which has run annually since 1995.

At the request of U.S. President George W. Bush, Gioia served between 2003 and 2009 as the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). In November 2006, Business Week magazine profiled Gioia as "The Man Who Saved the NEA".[1] Five years after Gioia left office, The Washington Post referred to him as one of "two of the NEA's strongest leaders".[2]

In December 2015, Gioia became the California State Poet Laureate.[3]

Gioia has published six books of poetry and five volumes of literary criticism as well as opera libretti, song cycles, translations, and over two dozen literary anthologies. Gioia's poetry has been anthologized in The Norton Anthology of Poetry, The Oxford Book of American Poetry, and several other anthologies. His poetry has been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Chinese, and Arabic. Gioia published translations of poets such as Eugenio Montale and Seneca the Younger.

Early Biography[edit]

Gioia was born in Los Angeles in 1950, the child of a working-class Sicilian father and Mexican-American mother. He attended Catholic schools for twelve years. He became the first person in his family to attend college. He received a B.A. and M.B.A. from Stanford and an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Harvard. At Harvard he studied with poets Robert Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Bishop. For fifteen years he worked as a businessman in New York while writing at night and on weekends. In 1992 he quit to become a full-time writer.

Writing and business career[edit]

Gioia in 1986 at General Foods

Criticism and beliefs about poetry[edit]

In a 2016 interview, Gioia recalled, "As soon as I began publishing formal poems, my work was attacked."[4] In response, he decided, "to articulate my poetics", by publishing literary essays.[4]

Gioia wrote the 1983 essay Business and Poetry, in which he pointed out how many other well-known figures in American poetry, including Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, and William Carlos Williams, had also made their livings outside of the academy.[5][6]

In his influential 1987 essay Notes on the New Formalism, Gioia wrote: "Literature not only changes; it must change to keep its force and vitality. There will always be groups advocating new types of poetry, some of it genuine, just as there will always be conservative opposing forces trying to maintain the conventional methods. But the revival of rhyme and meter among some young poets creates an unprecedented situation in American poetry. The New Formalists put the free-verse poets in the ironic and unprepared position of being the status quo. Free verse, the creation of an older literary revolution, is now the long-established, ruling orthodoxy, formal poetry the unexpected challenge... Form, we are told authoritatively, is artificial, elitist, retrogressive, right-wing, and (my favorite) Un-American. None of these arguments can withstand critical scrutiny, but nevertheless, they continue to be made so regularly that one can only assume that they provide some emotional comfort to their advocates. Obviously, for many writers the discussion between formal and free-verse has become an encoded political debate."[7]

In a 2016 interview with John Cusatis, however, Dana Gioia explained, "Literary movements are always temporary. They last a decade or so, and then they die or merge into the mainstream. The best New Formalist poets gradually became mainstream figures. There was no climax to the so-called Poetry Wars, only slow assimilation and change. Free and formal verse gradually ceased to be considered polar opposites. Form became one of the available styles of contemporary practice."[8]

Can Poetry Matter?[edit]

In 1991, Gioia published the influential essay, Can Poetry Matter? in the April issue of Atlantic Monthly. In the essay, Gioia began with the words, "American poetry now belongs to a subculture. No longer part of the mainstream of artistic and intellectual life, it has become the specialized occupation of a relatively small and isolated group. Little of the frenetic activity it generates ever reaches outside that closed group. As a class, poets are not without cultural status. Like priests in a town of agnostics, they still command a certain residual prestige. But as individual artists, they are almost invisible."[9]

The reason, Gioia explained, was that between 1940s and the 1960s, when college and university faculty positions were routinely offered to famous poets, American poetry had become imprisoned in college and university creative writing programs. As a result, recent poetry was no longer being read or studied by the vast majority of the American people. He alleged that, to say that a living poet was well-known, meant merely that he or she was well known to other poets, who were generally professors and graduate students. He further wrote that poetry was no longer a fruit of Literary Bohemia, but of academic bureaucracy.[10]

Gioia concluded with the words, "The history of art tells the same story over and over. As art forms develop, they establish forms that guide creation, performance, instruction, and analysis. But, eventually, these conventions grow stale. They begin to stand between the art and its audience. Although much wonderful poetry is being written, the American poetry establishment is locked into a series of outmoded conventions – outmoded ways of presenting, dissecting, and teaching poetry. Educational institutions have codified them into a stifling bureaucratic etiquette that enervates the art. These conventions may once have made sense, but today they imprison poetry in an intellectual ghetto. It is time to experiment, time to leave the well-ordered but stuffy classroom, time to restore a vulgar vitality to poetry and unleash the energy now trapped in the subculture. There is nothing to lose. Society has already told us that poetry is dead. Let's build a funeral pyre out of the desiccated conventions piled around us and watch the unkillable Phoenix rise from the ashes."[11]

Writing in 2002, Gioia recalled, "When the original essay appeared in the April 1991 issue of Atlantic Monthly, the editors warned me to expect angry letters from interested parties. When the hate mail arrived typed on the letterheads of University writing programs, no one was surprised. What astonished the Atlantic editors, however, was the sheer size and intensity of the response. Can Poetry Matter? eventually generated more mail than any article the Atlantic had published in decades.[12]"

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


Gioia has created several major literary conferences—each addressing a unique need. In 1995 he co-created (with fine-press printer Michael Peich) the West Chester Conference on Form and Narrative to provide training in poetic form. West Chester soon became the largest all-poetry conference in the U.S. It ran for twenty years. Gioia later created the “Teaching Poetry” (2001-2003) for high school instructors. Although successful, it ended when Gioia became NEA Chairman. Finally, in 2013 he created the first “Catholic Literary Imagination Conference” at USC. This influential conference has been repeated at two-year intervals Fordham, Loyola Chicago, and University of Dallas.

NEA chairman[edit]

In 2002, Gioia was nominated as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts by U.S. President George W. Bush. He was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. 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.[citation needed]

With wide support from both Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, Gioia gained a $20.1 million increase[13] in his agency's budget and for the remainder of his tenure, silenced the perpetual requests from conservative Republicans to abolish the NEA. In November 2006, Business Week magazine profiled Gioia as "The Man Who Saved the NEA".[1]

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,[14] in justifying his efforts to bring large scale national initiatives of artistic excellence to millions of Americans. The New York Times columnist William Safire referred to Gioia's NEA national initiatives as "A Gioia to Behold".[15] His program "Shakespeare in American Communities" gave grants to more than 40 American theatre companies to tour small and medium-sized communities.[16] His program The Big Read aimed to increase literacy across America. 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.[17]

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.[18]

Gioia also 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.[citation needed]

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 U.S. military and their 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.[19] 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. 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.[citation needed] A documentary based on Operation Homecoming, produced by the Documentary Group, was nominated for a 2006 Academy Award.[citation needed]

Gioia stepped down from the NEA in January 2009 to return to poetry.[20][21]

Five years after Gioia left office, The Washington Post referred to him as one of "two of the NEA's strongest leaders".[2]


Gioia has never taught full-time. He has been a visiting professor for a single term at Johns Hopkins, Sarah Lawrence, Wesleyan, Mercer University, and Colorado College. For nine years he taught literature and music at the University of Southern California as the Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture.[22] He quit in 2019.

California Poet Laureate

In 2015 Gioia was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown as the Poet Laureate of California. During his four years in office, Gioia became the first state laureate to visit all 58 counties in California. Focusing on small and mid-sized communities, he participated in over 100 events with local writers and students. His travels became the subject of a BBC Radio 3 documentary.[23]

Personal life[edit]

On February 23, 1980, he and Mary Elizabeth Hiecke were married. They had three sons, one of whom died in infancy. His poem "Planting a Sequoia" is based on his experience of losing his infant son.


Gioia has published six full-length volumes of poetry in addition to many smaller fine-press books and pamphlets. Although Gioia is best known for helping revive rhyme and meter, all of his books contain a mix of poems in free and formal verse. His first collection, Daily Horoscope (1986), attracted much notice, favorable and unfavorably, because of its use of rhyme, meter and verse narrative, but it’s most widely reprinted poem, “California Hills in August,” is in free verse.

The Gods of Winter (1991), Gioia’s dark second collection, contains poems written after the death of his first son. Published in the U.S. and U.K, the British edition was chosen by the Poetry Book Society as their main selection. This volume demonstrated Gioia’s interest in narrative poetry with two long dramatic monologues, “Counting the Children” in which an accountant has a disturbing interaction with a dead woman’s grotesque doll collection, and “The Homecoming,” which is spoken by an escaped returning home to commit one final murder.

Gioia’s third collection, Interrogations at Noon (2001), was the winner of the 2002 American Book Award. This diverse book, which contains both original poems and translations, was followed by a decade of silence during Gioia’s service at the National Endowment for the Arts and the Aspen Institute. Pity the Beautiful (2012) marked Gioia’s return to poetry and included two chilling poems, “Special Treatments Ward,” which describes a terminal ward in a children’s hospital, and “Haunted,” a dramatic monologue in equal parts of a love story and a ghost story. “Haunted” was turned into a ballet-opera by composer Paul Salerni.[24]

Gioia’s next volume, 99 Poems: New & Selected (2016), surveyed his career in an unusual way. Rather than present his poems chronologically, Gioia arranged them by seven themes. The book won the Poets’ Prize. Gioia’s most recent volume, Meet Me at the Lighthouse (2023), paid special attention to his Mexican roots and included “The Ballad of Jesus Ortiz,” which recounts the life and death of this great-grandfather, a vaquero who was killed in a racially motivated incident.

Gioia's most recent collection of poems is Meet Me at the Lighthouse, published in 2023.[25]

Music and opera[edit]

Gioia has collaborated with musicians including James Macmillan, Ned Rorem, Lori Laitman, Morten Lauridsen, Paul Salerni, Alva Henderson, David Conte, Tom Cipullo, Stefania de Kenessey, and John Harbison. His jazz collaborators include Dave Brubeck, Paquito D'Rivera, and Helen Sung.[citation needed]

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.[26] 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.[27] Both of these works have been recorded. His latest opera, The Three Feathers, with music by Lori Laitman, was premiered by Virginia Tech and Opera Roanoke in 2014.[28]

Honors and awards[edit]

Gioia has received eleven honorary doctorates and numerous awards. His awards and honors include:

  • Poet’s Prize, Best Collection of the Year (2018)
  • Walt Whitman Champion of Literacy Award (2017)[29]
  • Denise Levertov Award in Poetry, Image Journal (2016)[30]
  • Aiken-Taylor Award in Modern American Poetry (2014)
  • Laetare Medal, Notre Dame University (2010)
  • Presidential Citizen’s Medal (2008)
  • John Conyers Jr. Award in Jazz Advocacy (2008)
  • Smithsonian Latino Center Legacy Award (2007)
  • National Opera Association, Best New Work (2007)
  • American Book Award, in Poetry (2002)
  • Poet’s Prize, co-winner (with Adrienne Rich) (1992)
  • National Book Critics Circle, Finalist in Criticism (1992)
  • Publisher’s Weekly, “Best Books of 1992” (1992)
  • Esquire, “Best of the New Generation: Men and Women Under Forty Who are Changing America” (1984)
  • New York Times Book Review, “Notable Books of 1984” (1984)



  • Daily Horoscope (1986)
  • The Gods of Winter (1991)
  • Interrogations at Noon (2001)
  • Pity the Beautiful (2012)
  • 99 Poems: New & Selected (2016)
  • Meet Me at the Lighthouse (2023)


  • 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)
  • The Catholic Writer Today: And Other Essays (2019)
  • Studying with Miss Bishop: Memoirs from a Young Writer's Life (2021)


  • Eugenio Montale's Motteti: Poems of Love (1990)
  • The Madness of Hercules (Hercules Furens) (2023)

Opera libretti[edit]

  • Nosferatu (2001)
  • Tony Caruso's Last Broadcast (2005)
  • The Three Feathers (2014)
  • Haunted (2019)


  • The Ceremony and Other Stories by Weldon Kees (editor)(1984)
  • 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)
  • "The Art of the Short Story" (editor, with R. S. Gwynn) (2006)
  • An Introduction to Poetry, 13th edition (editor, with X.J. Kennedy) (2010)
  • An Introduction to Fiction, 11th edition (editor, with X.J. Kennedy) (2010)
  • Best American Poetry, 2018 (editor)(2018)


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

Writings about Dana Gioia and his work[edit]

  • Matthew Brennan. Dana Gioia. A Critical Introduction. (Story Line Press Critical Monographs) (2012, expanded and revised 2020) Franciscan University Press.
  • 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 Press) (2000)
  • John Zheng (editor). Conversations with Dana Gioia. University of Mississippi Press (2021).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The Man Who Saved the NEA". Bloomberg. November 13, 2006. Retrieved December 25, 2020 – via www.bloomberg.com.
  2. ^ a b Kennicott, Philip (May 20, 2014). "The Great Society at 50: Lyndon B. Johnson's cultural vision mirrored his domestic one". Retrieved December 25, 2020 – via www.washingtonpost.com.
  3. ^ "Former NEA chair Dana Gioia named California poet laureate". Archived from the original on March 11, 2016. Retrieved February 17, 2016.
  4. ^ a b Zheng (2021), Conversations with Dana Gioia, p. 212.
  5. ^ Dana Gioia, Business and Poetry, The Hudson Review, Vol. 36, No. 1, 35th Anniversary Issue (Spring, 1983), pp. 147–171.
  6. ^ Gioia (2002), Can Poetry Matter?, pp. 113–139.
  7. ^ Dana Gioia (2002), Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture, Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota, pp. 29–30.
  8. ^ John Zheng (2021), Conversations with Dana Gioia, University Press of Mississippi, p. 213.
  9. ^ Gioia (2002), Can Poetry Matter?, p. 1.
  10. ^ Gioia (2002), Can Poetry Matter?, pp. 1–20.
  11. ^ Gioia (2002), Can Poetry Matter?, pp. 20–21.
  12. ^ Gioia (2002), Can Poetry Matter?, pp. xi–xii.
  13. ^ "NEA ARTS: NEA Receives Historic Budget Increase". Archived from the original on September 25, 2012. Retrieved August 23, 2013.
  14. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/07/arts/07gioia.html [dead link]
  15. ^ Safire, William (March 8, 2004). "A Gioia To Behold". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 23, 2016.
  16. ^ "NEA". Archived from the original on February 23, 2013. Retrieved August 23, 2013.
  17. ^ "National Endowment for the Arts Announces $1 Million in Grants for the Big Read". Archived from the original on August 19, 2013. Retrieved August 23, 2013.
  18. ^ "Features". Retrieved December 25, 2020.
  19. ^ "NEA Initiatives: Great American Voices Military Base Tour". Archived from the original on September 14, 2013. Retrieved August 23, 2013.
  20. ^ Trescott, Jacqueline (September 12, 2008). "Arts Agency Chairman Is Moving On". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved July 23, 2016.
  21. ^ "Gioia Leaves NEA After Changing Debate Over Arts Funding – The New York Sun". www.nysun.com. Retrieved July 23, 2016.
  22. ^ "Poet Dana Gioia Named Judge Widney Professor at USC". November 11, 2010.
  23. ^ ""Every County in the State of California"". August 5, 2019.
  24. ^ "Long Biography | Paul Salerni". July 28, 2012.
  25. ^ Gioia, Dana (February 7, 2023). Meet Me at the Lighthouse. Graywolf Press. ISBN 978-1-64445-215-8.
  26. ^ "Albany Records: Nosferatu". www.albanyrecords.com. Retrieved December 25, 2020.
  27. ^ "Tony Caruso's Final Broadcast | OperaWorks". Archived from the original on June 2, 2016. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
  28. ^ Eisenberg, Susan Dormady (October 14, 2014). "Lori Laitman and Dana Gioia Talk About Their New Opera, Opening This Week at Virginia Tech". HuffPost. Retrieved December 25, 2020.
  29. ^ "Walt Whitman Champions of Literacy - Walt Whitman Birthplace Museum". August 3, 2022.
  30. ^ "Levertov Award - Image Journal".


  • 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[edit]