Donald Justice

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Best known for his poetry, Donald Justice also wrote plays, short stories, critical essays, reviews, and the libretto for Edward J. Miller’s opera The Young God. His stories “The Lady” and “Vineland’s Burning,” first published in Western Review, were included in the O. Henry Awards Prize Stories of 1950 and 1954. Both portray characters who are locked inside themselves; like a number of Justice’s poems, these stories discover the humanity of people who might be overlooked as uninteresting or dismissed as insane. The nonfiction Platonic Scripts (1984) is a collection of essays and interviews; Justice’s criticism and reviews demonstrate the same concern for craftsmanship that characterizes his own poetry and fiction.


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Donald Justice started collecting literary awards after the publication of his first book, The Summer Anniversaries, which won the Lamont Poetry Selection in 1959. He went on to win the Inez Boulton Prize from Poetry magazine in 1960, the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1980 for Selected Poems, an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1974, the Harriet Monroe Award from the University of Chicago in 1984, a Bollingen Prize for poetry in 1991, and the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry in 1996. He received a National Book Award nomination in 1973 for Departures and a National Book Critics Circle Award nomination in 1988 for The Sunset Maker. He became an Academy of American Poets fellow in 1988. He became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1992 and served as chancellor for the Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003. Among his other honors are grants in poetry from the Rockefeller and Guggenheim Foundations, and a grant in theater from the Ford Foundation.


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De Jong, Mary Gosselink. “Musical Possibilities: Music, Memory, and Composition in the Poetry of Donald Justice.” Concerning Poetry 18 (1985): 57-66. De Jong explores the influences of music on the structures, techniques, and metaphors in Justice’s work. The work is both specific (citing the poet’s references to Mozart and Thomas Higgins) and general (indicating the poet’s use of musical qualities such as rhyme, assonance, and repetition). The extensive footnotes also contribute to this essay’s value.

Ehrenpreis, Irvin. “Boysenberry Sherbet.” The New York Review of Books 22 (October 16, 1975): 3-4. Ehrenpreis explores Justice’s stylistic relationships and similarities with such poets as John Ashbery and Wallace Stevens. He also examines the poet’s themes including lovers, children, the aged, and the weak. Other subjects covered are the creative process, his distinct refinement of syntax, and his new technique that abandons regular meters for free verse.

Gioia, Dana, and William Logan. Certain Solitudes: On the Poetry of Donald Justice. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1997. A collection of essays covering Justice’s career to 1996, including some biographical material with critical analysis of his works. Includes bibliographic references.

Justice, Donald. “Donald Justice in Conversation with Philip Hoy.” Interview by Philip Hoy. In Seven American Poets in Conversation: John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Anthony Hecht, Donald Justice, Charles Simic, W. D. Snodgrass, Richard Wilbur, edited by Peter Dale, Philip Hoy, and J. D. McClatchy. London: Between the Lines, 2008. Justice talks about his work, his influences, and his life in an interview conducted by poet Hoy.

Justice, Jean Ross. “Tales from a Family Album: The Justices.” Iowa Review 37, no. 1 (Spring, 2007): 1-14. Justice’s wife writes about her husband’s parents (Vascoe Justice and Ethel Cook Justice) and the family’s life in Georgia and Miami.

St. John, David. “Scripts and Water, Rules and Riches.” Review of Platonic Scripts. Antioch Review 43, no. 3 (1985): 309-319. An excellent review combined with quotations from an interview with Justice and a...

(This entire section contains 443 words.)

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lucid interpretation of his work and evaluation of his importance in the world of poetry. This essay is extremely accessible, well written, and essential to anyone with an interest in Justice and his work.

Spiegelman, Willard. “The Nineties Revisited.” Contemporary Literature 42, no. 2 (Summer, 2001): 206-237. Spiegelman discusses ten poets from the twentieth century, including A. R. Ammons, Robert Creeley, and Justice, and reflects on whether these poets are representative of poetry during the 1990’s.

Woo, Elaine. “Obituaries: Donald Justice, Seventy-eight; Pulitzer-Winning ’Ultimate Poet’s Poet.’” Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2004, p. B9. Justice is remembered as a “poet’s poet,” as Dana Gioia, poet and friend, called Justice. In addition to creating memorable and distinct poetry, Justice had considerable influence on many poets, instructing many of them.


Critical Essays