Dec 4, 2015 9:44 PM

Former NEA chair Dana Gioia named California poet laureate

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) Dana Gioia, the poet and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, is returning to public life.

This time as California Poet Laureate.

Gov. Jerry Brown announced Friday that Gioia has been appointed to a 2-year term, succeeding Juan Felipe Herrera, who is now U.S. Poet Laureate. Gioia, a California native who turns 65 later this month, headed the NEA from 2003 to 2009 and has long advocated making poetry more accessible to the general public and teaching it in schools. His initiatives at the NEA included the national student contest Poetry Out Loud.

"Dana will bring the voice of a native son of California to his new role," Craig Watson, director of the California Arts Council, said in a statement. "And he'll also help our state's young people learn to explore and develop their own voices just as he did when he created the Poetry Out Loud high school recitation program while at the NEA a program which has greatly impacted California's young people for ten years."

Since returning from Washington, Gioia has taught poetry and public culture at the University of Southern California, not far from his hometown of Hawthorne. He has continued to write poetry and has a collection, "99 Poems: New & Selected," coming in March. During a telephone interview Friday with The Associated Press, Gioia said that when he left the NEA he had vowed never to run an organization again, public or private, but was open to a job that would allow him to concentrate on poetry.

"There's no distance between my personal identity and my civic identity and that's a lovely place to be," he said of the new position.

The California laureate, formally established in 2001 and subject to approval by the state senate, receives a $5,000 annual stipend and works with the arts council. Gioia said he hoped to visit counties statewide that participated in Poetry Out Loud and to pay special attention to small and mid-sized communities.

"My life changed for the better by falling in love with poetry," he told the AP. "It made me a better student, made me a more alert human being. And I'd like to try to bring the gifts of poetry to the broadest audience possible."


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