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June 14, 2006

Librarian of Congress Appoints Donald Hall Poet Laureate

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington has announced the appointment of Donald Hall to be the Library’s 14th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.

Hall will take up his duties in the fall, opening the Library’s annual literary series in October with a reading of his work. He will also be a featured speaker at the Library of Congress National Book Festival poetry pavilion on Saturday, Sept. 30, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Hall succeeds Ted Kooser as Poet Laureate and joins a long line of distinguished poets who have served in the position, including most recently Louise Glűck, Billy Collins, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass and Rita Dove.

On making the appointment, Billington said, "Donald Hall is one of America’s most distinctive and respected literary figures. For more than 50 years, he has written beautiful poetry on a wide variety of subjects that are often distinctly American and conveyed with passion."

Hall has published 15 books of poetry, beginning with "Exiles and Marriages" in 1955. Earlier this year, he brought out "White Apples and the Taste of Stone" (Houghton Mifflin), a selection of poems 1946-2006. In 2005 he published "The Best Day The Worst Day," a memoir of his marriage to the poet Jane Kenyon, who died in 1995. Among his children’s books, "Ox-Cart Man" won the Caldecott Medal. Among his many books of prose are his essays on poetry, "Breakfast Served Any Time All Day" (2003).

For his poems he has received the Lenore Marshall/Nation Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the Ruth Lilly Prize for Poetry. He has also received two fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation. He is a member of the Academy of Arts and Letters.

Hall was born in Connecticut in 1928. He was educated at Harvard, Oxford and Stanford universities and taught at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. For the past 30 years he has lived on an old family farm in rural New Hampshire, in the house where his grandmother and his mother were born. He has two children and five grandchildren.

Dana Gioia, himself a poet and chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, characterized Hall’s selection as "long-overdue recognition for one of America’s greatest and most-admired men of letters."

Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate, in an April 16, 2006, Washington Post review of Hall’s latest work, "White Apples and the Taste of Stone," said, "Hall has long been placed in the Frostian tradition of the plainspoken rural poet. His reliance on simple, concrete diction and the no-nonsense sequence of the declarative sentence gives his poems steadiness and imbues them with a tone of sincere authority. It is a kind of simplicity that succeeds in engaging the reader in the first few lines."

Background of the Laureateship

The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties required of the Poet Laureate in order to permit incumbents to work on their own projects while at the Library. Each brings a new emphasis to the position. Allen Tate (1943-44), for example, served as editor of the Library’s publication of that period, The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, during his tenure and edited the compilation "Sixty American Poets, 1896-1944." Some consultants have suggested and chaired literary festivals and conferences; others have spoken in a number of schools and universities and received the public in the Poetry Room.

Increasingly in recent years, the incumbents have sought to find new ways to broaden the role of poetry in our national life. Maxine Kumin initiated a popular women’s series of poetry workshops at the Library’s Poetry and Literature Center. Gwendolyn Brooks met with groups of elementary school children to encourage them to write poetry. Howard Nemerov conducted seminars at the Library for high school English classes. Most incumbents have furthered the development of the Library’s Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. Joseph Brodsky initiated the idea of providing poetry in public places—supermarkets, hotels, airports and hospitals.

Rita Dove brought a program of poetry and jazz to the Library’s literary series, along with a reading by young Crow Indian poets and a two-day conference titled "Oil on the Waters: The Black Diaspora," featuring panel discussions, readings and music.

Robert Hass sponsored a major conference on nature writing called "Watershed," which continues today as a national poetry competition for elementary and high school students, titled "River of Words." Robert Pinsky initiated his Favorite Poem Project, which energized a nation of poetry readers to share their favorite poems in readings across the country and in audio and video recordings. Billy Collins instituted the Web site Poetry180 (, designed to bring a poem a day into high school classrooms. Most recently, Ted Kooser created a free weekly newspaper column ( that features a brief poem by a contemporary American poet and an introduction to the poem by Kooser.

Consultants in Poetry and Poets Laureate Consultants in Poetry and their terms of service are listed below.

  • Joseph Auslander, 1937-1941
  • Allen Tate, 1943-1944
  • Robert Penn Warren, 1944-1945
  • Louise Bogan, 1945-1946
  • Karl Shapiro, 1946-1947
  • Robert Lowell, 1947-1948
  • Leonie Adams, 1948-1949
  • Elizabeth Bishop, 1949-1950
  • Conrad Aiken, 1950-1952 First to serve two terms
  • William Carlos Williams, Appointed in 1952 but did not serve
  • Randall Jarrell, 1956-1958
  • Robert Frost, 1958-1959
  • Richard Eberhart, 1959-1961
  • Louis Untermeyer, 1961-1963
  • Howard Nemerov, 1963-1964
  • Reed Whittemore, 1964-1965
  • Stephen Spender, 1965-1966
  • James Dickey, 1966-1968
  • William Jay Smith, 1968-1970
  • William Stafford, 1970-1971
  • Josephine Jacobsen, 1971-1973
  • Daniel Hoffman, 1973-1974
  • Stanley Kunitz, 1974-1976
  • Robert Hayden, 1976-1978
  • William Meredith, 1978-1980
  • Maxine Kumin, 1981-1982
  • Anthony Hecht, 1982-1984
  • Robert Fitzgerald, 1984-1985 (Appointed and served in a health-limited capacity, but did not come to the Library of Congress)
  • Reed Whittemore, 1984-1985 (Interim Consultant in Poetry)
  • Gwendolyn Brooks, 1985-1986
  • Robert Penn Warren, 1986-1987 (First to be Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry)
  • Richard Wilbur, 1987-1988
  • Howard Nemerov, 1988-1990
  • Mark Strand, 1990-1991
  • Joseph Brodsky, 1991-1992
  • Mona Van Duyn, 1992-1993
  • Rita Dove, 1993-1995
  • Robert Hass, 1995-1997
  • Robert Pinsky, 1997-2000
  • Stanley Kunitz, 2000-2001
  • Billy Collins, 2001-2003
  • Louise Glück, 2003-2004
  • Ted Kooser, 2004-2006

The annual poetry and literature reading series at the Library of Congress is the oldest in the Washington area and among the oldest in the United States. These readings, lectures, symposia and occasional dramatic performances began in the 1940s. They are all free and have been largely supported since 1951 by a gift from the late Gertrude Clarke Whittall, designed to bring good literature to a larger audience.

The Poetry and Literature Center administers the series and is the home of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a position that has existed since 1936, when the late Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library of Congress. Since then many of the nation’s most eminent poets have served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and, after the passage of Public Law 99-194 (Dec. 20, 1985), as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. The Poet Laureate suggests authors to read in the literary series and plans other special literary events during the reading season.

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PR 06-131
ISSN 0731-3527

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