Dana Gioia is an internationally acclaimed poet and writer. Former California Poet laureate and Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Gioia was born in Los Angeles of Italian and Mexican descent. The first person in his family to attend college, he received a B.A. and M.B.A. from Stanford and an M.A. from Harvard in Comparative Literature. For fifteen years he worked as a businessman before quitting at forty-one to become a full-time writer.
His surname is pronounced Joy-a.
Gioia has published five full-length collections of verse, most recently 99 Poems: New & Selected (2016), which won the Poets’ Prize as the best new book of the year. His third collection, Interrogations at Noon (2001), was awarded the American Book Award.
Gioia is best known as a central figure in the revival of rhyme, meter, and narrative in contemporary poetry. Critic William Oxley has called Gioia, “probably the most exquisite poet writing in English today.”
An influential critic, Gioia has published four books of essays. His controversial volume, Can Poetry Matter? (1992), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award. The book is credited with helping to revive the role of poetry in American public culture.
Gioia has also edited or co-edited two dozen best-selling literary anthologies, including An Introduction to Poetry (with X. J. Kennedy) and Best American Poetry 2018. His essays and memoirs have appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic, Washington Post, New York Times, Hudson Review, and BBC Radio.
Music & Opera
Gioia has written four opera libretti and collaborated with musicians in genres from classical to jazz. His work has been set to music by Morten Lauridsen, Lori Laitman, Dave Brubeck, Ned Rorem, Paul Salerni, and numerous other composers. He collaborated with jazz pianist Helen Sung on her vocal album, Sung With Words (2018). His dance opera (with Paul Salerni), Haunted, premiered in 2019.
Gioia has been an important advocate for the arts and arts education. From 2003 to 2009 Gioia served as the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts where he helped create and launch the largest programs in the agency’s history, including Poetry Out Loud, The Big Read, Shakespeare in American Communities, and Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience.
In Washington, Gioia created a bipartisan majority in Congress to raise the NEA budget each year of his Chairmanship. He was twice confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate. Business Week magazine called him “The Man Who Saved the NEA.”
California Poet Laureate
Gioia also served as the California State Poet Laureate from 2015 to 2019. During his tenure he became the first laureate to visit all 58 counties of California. His statewide tour became the subject of a BBC Radio documentary.
Awards & Honors
In addition to the American Book Award and Poets’ Prize, Gioia has won many awards including the Laetare Medal from Notre Dame, Presidential Citizen’s Medal, Aiken Taylor Award in Modern Poetry, and Walt Whitman Champion of Literacy prize. He has been awarded ten honorary doctorates.
Gioia teaches each fall semester at the University of Southern California where he holds the Judge Widney Chair of Poetry and Public Culture. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Sonoma County, California.