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September 20, 2011
Philip Levine to Give Inaugural Reading as U.S. Poet Laureate on Oct. 17
Philip Levine, whose poetry has honored the working man for almost half a century, will give his inaugural reading as the 18th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress on Oct. 17.
The reading, which will kick off the Library’s 2011-2012 literary season, will start at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 17, in the Coolidge Auditorium on the ground floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. The reading is free and open to the public, and a book-signing will follow. Tickets and reservations are not required, but early arrival is strongly recommended.
The Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, announced the Laureate’s appointment on Aug. 10. In making the selection, Billington said, "Philip Levine is one of America’s great narrative poets," adding "his plainspoken lyricism has, for half a century, championed the art of telling ‘The Simple Truth’—about working in a Detroit auto factory, as he has, and about the hard work we do to make sense of our lives."
Levine is the author of 20 collections of poems, including most recently "News of the World" (2009), which The New York Times Sunday Book Review describes as "characteristically wise." Levine won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for "The Simple Truth," the National Book Award in 1991 for "What Work Is" and in 1980 for "Ashes: Poems New and Old," the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1979 for both "Ashes: Poems New and Old" and "7 Years From Somewhere," and the 1975 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for "Names of the Lost."
Born in Detroit, Mich., on Jan. 10, 1928, Levine received degrees from Wayne State University and the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and in 1957 was awarded the Jones Fellowship in Poetry at Stanford. As a student, he worked a number of industrial jobs at Detroit’s auto-manufacturing plants, including Detroit Transmission—a branch of Cadillac—and the Chevrolet Gear and Axle factory. Levine has said about writing poems in his mid-20s during his factory days: "I believed even then that if I could transform my experience into poetry, I would give it the value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own. I thought, too, that if I could write about it I could come to understand it; I believed that if I could understand my life—or at least the part my work played in it—I could embrace it with some degree of joy, an element conspicuously missing from my life."
Levine taught for many years at California State University, Fresno, where he is professor emeritus in the English Department. He has also taught at New York University as Distinguished Writer-in-Residence, as well as at Columbia, Princeton, Brown and Tufts universities, University of California at Berkeley and elsewhere.
Additional awards include the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, the Frank O’Hara Prize, two Guggenheim Foundation fellowships and three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (for which he served as chair of the Literature Panel). In 1997 Levine was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and he served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2000-2006.
The Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress fosters and enhances the public’s appreciation of literature. The center administers the endowed poetry chair (the U.S. Poet Laureate), and coordinates an annual literary season of poetry, fiction and drama readings, performances, lectures and symposia, sponsored by the Library’s Gertrude Clarke Whittall Poetry and Literature Fund and the Huntington Fund. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/poetry/.
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