Dana Gioia

Dana Gioia
Dana Gioia
Born December 24, 1950 (1950-12-24) (age 60)
Hawthorne, California, U.S.
Occupation Writer, critic, poet
Nationality American
Alma mater Stanford University (B.A.)
Harvard University (M.A.)
Stanford Business School (M.B.A.)


Michael Dana Gioia (born December 24, 1950) is an American writer, critic and poet. He retired early from his career as a corporate executive at General Foods to write full-time. From January 29, 2003, until January 22, 2009, he was chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the U.S. government's arts agency, and has worked to revitalize an organization that had suffered bitter controversies about the nature of grants to artists in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In August 2011, Gioia became Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California.[1]

He has sought to encourage jazz, which he calls the only uniquely American form of art, to promote reading and performance of Shakespeare and to increase the number of Americans reading literature. Before taking the NEA post, Gioia was a resident of Santa Rosa, California, and before that, of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.


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] His father was the son of immigrants from Sicily and his mother was a native Californian of Mexican heritage. He attended Junípero Serra High School in Gardena, California.[4]

He earned his B.A. from Stanford University in 1973, an M.A. from Harvard University in 1975, and an M.B.A. from Stanford Business School in 1977. From 1971-73, he was editor of Sequoia Magazine and then its poetry editor from 1975-77.

After college, he joined General Foods Corporation and served as vice-president of marketing from 1977 to 1992. He was on the team that invented Jell-O Jigglers.[5] From 1977-79, he was literary editor of Inquiry Magazine and served as its poetry editor from 1979-83. For the academic years 1986-89, he was a Visiting Writer at Wesleyan University.[6][7]

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 newborn son soon after he was born.

Resignation from General Foods

In 1992, Gioia resigned from his position at General Foods to write full-time. But even while there he was writing and producing several books of poetry. He won the Frederick Bock Award for poetry in 1986. His 1991 poetry collection The Gods of Winter won the 1992 Poets' Prize. Gioia is classed 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]

Writing full time

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 from 1997. He also wrote the libretto of the opera Nosferatu (2001).

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.[citation needed]


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—like those of the two subsequent collections that Gioia has thus far published—range widely in form, length and theme: traditional forms and free verse; lyrics, meditations, and mid-length narratives; deeply personal poems and poems drawn from myth, history, and the other arts. 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) is in many ways a 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 and the effects that his violent acts have had upon him. Simultaneously published in Britain, it is one of the few American volumes ever chosen as the main selection of the U.K. Poetry Book Society.[citation needed]

Gioia's third collection, Interrogations at Noon (2001) was the winner of the 2002 American Book Award. (It is surely no coincidence that each book’s title contains a temporal reference, given the importance of time and its passing as a theme in Gioia’s poetry.) Its varied contents include a suite of translations from the contemporary Italian poet Valerio Magrelli and two excerpts from Gioia’s translation of Seneca’s Hercules Furens, amid 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.”[citation needed]

His poetry has appeared in The Norton Anthology of Poetry, The Oxford Book of American Poetry, and many other anthologies. They have been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Chinese, and Arabic. His poetry has been set to music, in styles ranging from classical to jazz and rock, by—among others—Ned Rorem, Dave Brubeck, Paquito D’Rivera, and Alva Henderson; song cycles based on his poems have been composed by Stefania de Kenessey, Lori Laitman, and Paul Salerni. Gioia has also written the libretti for the operas Nosferatu (2001; music by Alva Henderson) and Tony Caruso's Last Broadcast (2005; music by Paul Salerni).[citation needed]

Gioia has received ten honorary doctorates, as of 2011. In 2005, Dana Gioia received the John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry. In 2010, Gioia was announced as the year's 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.[citation needed]

NEA chairman

Gioia was President George W. Bush's second choice to lead the NEA. The first, composer Michael P. Hammond, died only a week after taking office as the NEA's eighth chairman in January 2002. Gioia said, "I found an agency that was demoralized, defensive, and unconfident. It had been under constant assault for about fifteen years and it was suffering from the institutional version of battered child syndrome", said Gioia. "I don't think the NEA has done a very good job of serving America," he declared. By bringing a new visibility to the agency and wooing Congressional Republicans, Gioia gained a sizable increase in his agency's budget. "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.[citation needed] Bill Kauffman called Gioia "the best poet in government service since President Tyler sent John Howard "Home Sweet Home" Payne to Tunis."[9]

At the NEA, Gioia created new programs such as Shakespeare in American Communities, bringing the Bard to small towns; and NEA Jazz Masters, promoting jazz music. The NEA presents an annual award for jazz which Gioia hopes will be the jazz equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize. "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 in justifying his efforts.[citation needed]

Gioia is not without critics, however. Some in the U.S. Congress,[who?] believe the NEA should be abolished because it exceeds their view of the Constitutional functions of government. Some in the arts community fault the NEA for abandoning grants to individual artists, which were terminated after controversy over Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano, and others, to which Gioia responded, "Fellowships in prose (fiction and creative nonfiction) or poetry are available to published creative writers of exceptional talent." Gioia's new NEA programs, for which NEA has sought corporate and foundation support, worry other arts organizations because the NEA is competing with them for funding.

In July 2004 the NEA released "Reading at Risk" a study showing how little time Americans were dedicating to literature. In 2005 Gioia initiated the "Big Read" program, seeking to get Americans to read serious literature, akin to the city-wide reading programs undertaken by several American cities such as Seattle, Cincinnati and Chicago. The Big Read eventually became the largest literary program in the history of the federal government, reaching nearly 500 cities across all 50 states. Over 25,000 local organizations, including libraries, museums, newspapers, mayor's offices, and private businesses became partners in the program. It also became a vehicle for international cultural exchange with Big Read programs in Russia, Egypt, and Mexico.

In 2007, Gioia was named the 2007 commencement speaker for his alma mater, Stanford University. His selection was a source of controversy between the class of 2007 and the administration.[10] In his commencement address, he lamented the fallout from the dominance of celebrity and fame as societal values: "...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."[11] Gioia has also written or co-written a number of texts used in college courses, including the anthology (edited with Dan Stone) 100 Great Poets of the English Language (2004). He has authored many essays and reviews.

On November 17, 2008, Gioia was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal by President George W. Bush.[citation needed]



  • Daily Horoscope (1986)
  • The Gods of Winter (1991)
  • Interrogations at Noon (2001)


  • 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)


  • 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)


  • My California: Journeys by Great Writers (contributor / 2004)

Writings about Dana Gioia and his work

  • 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.

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Stanford.edu
  3. ^ Pulliam, Russ. "WORLD Magazine: Modern man of letters". WorldMag.com. http://www.worldmag.com/articles/14441. Retrieved 2010-07-18. 
  4. ^ Gioia, Dana; Wares, Donna, "Being a California Poet", My California: Journeys by Great Writers, http://www.danagioia.net/essays/ecalifornia.htm 
  5. ^ Goodyear, Dana (February 19), [http://www.newyorker.com reporting/2007/02/19/070219fa_fact_goodyear "The Moneyed Muse: What can two hundred million dollars do for poetry?"], The New Yorker, http://www.newyorker.com reporting/2007/02/19/070219fa_fact_goodyear 
  6. ^ State.gov
  7. ^ Wesleyan.edu
  8. ^ "Accentual verse", Dana Gioia
  9. ^ Who's Getting Your Vote?, Reason
  10. ^ "Dark horse chosen for Commencement", The Stanford Daily Online]
  11. ^ Gioia to graduates: "Trade easy pleasures for more complex and challenging ones"


  • 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

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Dana (given name) — Dana Gender Female/Male Dana is a given name used for both males and females. As a male forename it is well known in the United States, being in the 314th rank out of 1219 in the 1990 U.S. Census. It was among the 100 most popular names given to… …   Wikipedia

  • Gioia — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Gioia peut désigner : Patronymes Gioia est un nom de famille d origine italienne notamment porté par : Melchiorre Gioia (1767 1829) :… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Ted Gioia — (* 1957 in Palo Alto) ist ein US amerikanischer Jazz und Bluesautor, Jazzpianist, Komponist und Musikwissenschaftler. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Leben und Werk 2 Schriften 3 Anmerkungen …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • X. J. Kennedy — (born 21 August 1929, Dover, New Jersey) is a poet, translator, anthologist, editor, and bestsellingFacts|date=January 2008 writer of children s literature as well as student textbooks on English literature and poetry.LifeHe was born Joseph… …   Wikipedia

  • Paul Revere's Ride (poem) — Paul Revere s Ride is poem by an American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that commemorates the actions of American patriot Paul Revere on April 18, 1775. [cite book | last = Longfellow | first = Henry Wadsworth | title = Tales of a Wayside Inn | …   Wikipedia

  • Wesleyan University people — This is a list of notable people affiliated with Wesleyan University.Administration and facultyAcademia* Hannah Arendt, Fellow 1962 1963, Political theorist * Wilbur Olin Atwater, 1865 (Wesleyan B.S.), first Professor of Chemistry; known for his… …   Wikipedia

  • Jack Foley (poet) — Jack Foley is an American poet living in Oakland, California.BiographyJack Foley is an innovative, widely published San Francisco poet and critic. Born in Neptune, New Jersey (1940), raised in Port Chester, New York, and educated at Cornell… …   Wikipedia

  • Kay Ryan — Infobox Writer name = Kay Ryan imagesize = 180px birthdate = Birth year and age|1945 birthplace = San Jose, California, USA occupation = Poet, educator nationality = United States period = 1970s present genre = subject = movement = notableworks …   Wikipedia

  • Italian American — Infobox Ethnic group group = Italian American Italoamericani popplace = Found in the Northeast, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Chicago, and the West Coast Heavily concentrated in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Philadelphia,… …   Wikipedia

  • National Endowment for the Arts — The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is an independent agency of the United States federal government that offers support and funding for projects exhibiting artistic excellence.[1] It was created by an act of the U.S. Congress in 1965 as an …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”