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U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine to Visit Georgetown on Monday

Phillip Levine

U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine will read his poems and talk about his life with NPR's Maureen Corrigan.

November 4, 2011 – Philip Levine, the former autoworker that librarian of Congress James Billington has called “one of America’s great narrative poets,” will give a reading and participate in a book-signing at Georgetown Nov. 7.

“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,” Billington said after Levine gave his inaugural reading at the Library of Congress Oct. 17.

Levine will talk about his life’s work at the Nov. 7 event with NPR’s Fresh Air book critic, Maureen Corrigan, who is also a Georgetown critic-in-residence and lecturer in the English department.

Pulitzer Recipient

After the reading and discussion, Levine will sign two of his books of poem – What Work Is (Knopf, 1992) and News of the World (Random House, 2009).

Born in Detroit in 1928, Levine holds degrees from Wayne State University and the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Stanford awarded him the Jones Fellowship in Poetry in 1957.

He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1995 for his collection of poems, The Simple Truth (Knopf, 1994) and a National Book Award for What Work Is.

Value and Dignity

Levine worked at several of Detroit’s auto-manufacturing plants in his younger days.

According to a Library of Congress press release, Levine has said he “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 has also taught at New York University as a distinguished writer-in-raesidence, as well as at Columbia, Princeton, Brown and Tufts universities, University of California at Berkeley and elsewhere.

No Clearer Voice

Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor invited Levine as a part of its “Labor Lab series,” which includes scholars, writers, activists and artists in an effort to look at labor issues from different perspectives.

“The Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor seeks to foster creative thinking about the problems that afflict working people, so inviting the nation's Poet Laureate Philip Levine was natural for us,” says Joseph McCartin, an associate professor of history who directs the initiative. “Some of Mr. Levine’s most moving poetry sprang from his experiences as an auto worker, from the American working-class experience. 

“We thought we could find no clearer voice to help start a conversation on this campus and beyond about the dignity of work and the present day experiences of working people.”

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