American-Jewish poet Phillip Levine named U.S. Poet Laureate
Phillip Levine, born to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, has authored 20 collections of poems, is the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize.
The librarian of U.S. Congress James H. Billington announced on Wednesday the appointment of Pulitzer-Prize-winning American-Jewish poet Philip Levine as the Library’s 18th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2011-2012, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Levine will assume duties in the fall, and will open the Library's annual literary season with a reading of his work at the Coolidge Auditorium on Monday, Oct. 17.
"Philip Levine is one of America's great narrative poets," Billington said. "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."
The Poet Laureate is selected for a one-year term by the Librarian of Congress. The librarian chooses candidates based on poetic merit alone, and the post has been filled since its inception in 1936 with laureates of varying poetic styles.
The Library keeps the specific duties of the Poet Laureate to a minimum, who opens the literary season in October and closes it in May. The Poet Laureate suggests authors to read in the literary series and plans other special events during the literary season.
Levine was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1928, to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. Growing up, he faced anti-Semitism from local pro-Hitler radio priest, Father Coughlin. As a student, he worked a number of industrial jobs at a number of Detroit’s auto-manufacturing plants.
Levine has authored 20 collections of poems, most recently publishing “News of the World” in 2009. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for "The Simple Truth” and the National Book Award in 1991 for "What Work Is" and in 1980 for "Ashes: Poems New and Old".
In 1979, the American Jew won the National Book Critics Circle Award for both "Ashes: Poems New and Old" and "7 Years From Somewhere," and in 1975 he won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for "Names of the Lost."
Even during his days working industrial jobs, Levine says he “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."