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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[…]

Literature tries to create a conversation between the present and the past.

Question: What are the recurring themes in literature?

Dana Gioia: Well you know, I think that literature is one of the necessary human studies, because the beginning of human wisdom is to recognize that, you know, we are the product of history.  That millions, billions of people have lived before us.  They led lives that are startlingly similar to ours even though they were in different places and different times.  And what literature allows you to do is to create a conversation with the past and the present out of what you can imagine and create a future.  And so it gives you a sense of the reality of other people’s lives from the inside – from the “dailyness” of their existence – not only in the peak moments, but in their ordinary moments.  And what that, I think, does is build compassion.  It builds humanity.  And it builds a sense . . . and the sense of what the changeable parts of human nature are and what the permanent parts are.

Recorded on: 07.06.07