Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 606
Dana Gioia was born Michael Dana Gioia in Los Angeles, the first of four surviving children of Michael Gioia, a cabdriver and shoe-store owner, and Dorothy Ortiz Gioia, a telephone operator. One of his brothers, Ted Gioia, became a major jazz critic. The Gioia family was Sicilian, with most members living in the same neighborhood. Gioia’s mother was of Mexican heritage, and thus Gioia grew up in a multilingual context, one that heightened his sense of language. When he won a scholarship to Stanford University, Gioia for the first time left behind both the security and the provincialism of a tight family structure. Gioia originally intended to study music, but his love of literature and his distaste for atonality directed him back to English, for which he was awarded a B.A. in 1973. Gioia then left to study comparative literature at Harvard.
Although his work with Robert Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Bishop at Harvard confirmed his resolve to write poetry, Gioia became increasingly distressed at the direction that literary studies were taking in the academy; accordingly, he left Harvard with an M.A., having completed his Ph.D. course work, and returned to Stanford, in 1977 earning an M.B.A. degree. It was also at Stanford that he met Mary Hiecke, whom he married in 1980. After receiving his M.B.A., Gioia moved to New York and worked in business, eventually becoming a vice president of Kraft-General Foods. Though he was writing poetry and criticism regularly, he kept his two lives separate; in 1984, when Esquire magazine ran an article on forty men and women under age forty who were changing the country and listed Gioia, businessman and poet, his associates in business were in complete surprise at his artistic accomplishments.
Gioia’s Daily Horoscope was published in 1986 and attracted much attention for a first book. It was defended nearly as stoutly as it was attacked, even becoming the subject of a three-issue debate in Northwest Review. His second major collection, The Gods of Winter, appeared in 1991 and likewise stirred considerable debate, though many of the most vociferous critics had spent most of their energies denouncing the first volume. The collection was published simultaneously in the United States and Great Britain and was the choice of the Poetry Book Society in England, the first time an American poet was so honored. Also in 1991, Gioia’s essay “Can Poetry Matter?” appeared in The Atlantic Monthly and elicited one of the largest responses the magazine ever received. Gioia’s concerns for increasing the poetry public and thereby saving it from stagnation in the academy struck a nerve: Readers who felt closed off from contemporary poetry were as enthused as the M.F.A. free-verse establishment were threatened. Discussions of the article appeared in publications as various as the Times Literary Supplement and The New Criterion to USA Today and the Washington Post Book World. The piece became the title piece of Gioia’s first collection of essays the following year.
Also in 1992, Gioia retired from the business world to dedicate himself full time to writing and editing, with an occasional guest professorship. In 1995, Gioia cofounded with Michael Peich the West Chester College summer conference on form and narrative, the nation’s only conference focused on the traditional techniques of poetry. The conference grew steadily since its inception and began incorporating scholarly seminars and musical performances with creative-writing workshops. In 1996, Gioia returned to California, settling in rural Sonoma County with his wife and two sons. Gioia also organized a Teaching Poetry Conference in Santa Rosa, which first met in July of 2001. In 2001, Gioia published the full-length collection Interrogations at Noon.
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