Dana Gioia : biography
Michael Dana Gioia (born December 24, 1950) is an American writer, critic, poet and businessman. He initially worked as a marketing executive for General Foods Corporation, where he is best known for his role in promoting Jell-O snacks. He was also writing while working at General Foods, and resigned in 1992 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.
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.
After business school, he joined General Foods Corporation in 1977, where he eventually became vice president of marketing. He was on the team that invented Jell-O Jigglers. Gioia is credited with reversing a long-running sales decline for Jello.
In 1992, Gioia resigned from his position at General Foods to write full-time.
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.
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 three 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.
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.”
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