Former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dana Gioia is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning poet. A native Californian of Italian and Mexican descent, Gioia (pronounced JOY-uh) received a B.A. and a M.B.A. from Stanford University and an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University.
Gioia has published three full-length collections of poetry, as well as eight chapbooks. His poetry collection, Interrogations at Noon, won the 2002 American Book Award. An influential critic as well, Gioia's 1991 volume Can Poetry Matter?, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award, is credited with helping to revive the role of poetry in American public culture.
Question: Do you recall a pivotal moment in your childhood?
Dana Gioia: I mean I had about 500 small epiphanies that brought me from one place to another. I mean there are certain things that would have happened to change my life. For example, I was in a very ugly, ugly place. There was no open land. There was nothing beautiful to look at in Hawthorne. And I didn’t know it at the time, but I was starved for beauty. And one night on TV there was a documentary on Michelangelo, and I just watched it with, you know, agog. And the next day I went to this large, public library a few blocks from my house, took out an art book and, really for the next five or six years, I read every book in this large depository . . . library on art. And this was when I was about 10 or 11, so obviously that’s something that, even though I’ve never been a painter or a visual arts critic, it was one of the things that brought me into the arts. One of the things that opened up the idea of history, the idea of aesthetics to me. You know, in the same way that these little glimpses that one got planted seeds that really paid off years and years later. That’s one of the reasons I think, as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, I consider arts education so important. Even if it’s just exposing kids to a single things once. Because for somebody in the audience, it will change their life for the better.
Recorded On: 7/6/07