Philip Levine named U.S. poet laureate


(JTA) — Philip Levine, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1995, has been named the 18th poet laureate of the United States.

The appointment of Levine, who at 83 is one of the oldest poet laureates, was announced Wednesday by Librarian of Congress James Billington.

Levine, of Fresno, Calif., is the author of 20 collections of poems, including "The Simple Truth," for which he won the Pulitzer Prize.

"Philip Levine is one of America’s great narrative poets," Billington said. "His plainspoken lyricism has, for half a century, championed the art of telling ‘The Simple Truth’ — about working in a Detroit auto factory, as he has, and about the hard work we do to make sense of our lives."

As a student, the Detroit native worked a number of industrial jobs at the city’s auto-manufacturing plants. Levine, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, once referred to himself as “a dirty Detroit Jew with bad manners,” according to The New York Times.

About writing poems in his mid-20s during his factory days, Levine said, "I believed even then that if I could transform my experience into poetry, I would give it the value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own. I thought, too, that if I could write about it I could come to understand it; I believed that if I could understand my life — or at least the part my work played in it — I could embrace it with some degree of joy, an element conspicuously missing from my life."

Levine taught for many years at California State University, Fresno, where he is professor emeritus in the English Department. He also has taught at New York University as distinguished writer in residence, as well as at Columbia, Princeton, Brown and Tufts universities, and the University of California, Berkeley.

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