USC Price School of Public Policy

Poet Dana Gioia Joins USC

Poet Dana Gioia Joins USC, SPPD

By Jeremy Schoenberg

Dana Gioia Dana Gioia is the former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Dana Gioia, an acclaimed poet and essayist who served two terms as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), has been appointed the Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at USC by President C. L. Max Nikias.

“Dana Gioia exemplifies USC’s commitment to the fundamental role of the arts in society,” said Nikias, who, in his Oct. 15 inauguration address, announced the recruitment of interdisciplinary faculty superstars as a top priority. “Through his poignant verse, insightful criticism, and inspired leadership of the NEA, professor Gioia has helped millions of Americans experience the positive and transformative power of literature and the arts.”

Named after USC founder judge Robert Maclay Widney, the title of Judge Widney Professor is reserved for eminent individuals from the arts, sciences, professions, business and community leadership. Gioia’s university-wide appointment includes affiliations with USC College, USC Thornton School of Music, USC Marshall School of Business, and USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development.

“I am enormously excited to come to USC,” Gioia said. “No university has a greater commitment to the arts. As a teenager growing up in L.A., I frequently came to campus to attend concerts, opera, and theatre. USC always made a scruffy working-class kid like me feel welcome, and those early experiences helped confirm my decision to be an artist. I have watched the university’s steady rise over the past two decades with admiration. What a privilege to join its distinguished and creative faculty during what promises to be the school’s Golden Age.”

Gioia was named chairman of the NEA in 2003 by President George W. Bush and served two terms before stepping down in 2009; he was twice confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate. He is credited with revitalizing the once-embattled federal agency and gaining broad, bipartisan support in Congress and across the country for public funding of the arts. With a focus on access and education, he created the largest public programs in the NEA’s history and expanded the agency’s grant making to reach underserved communities across the nation.

Already widely published, Gioia gained international prominence in 1991 after the Atlantic Monthly printed his essay “Can Poetry Matter?” in which he argued that poets and poetry are necessary ingredients of an educated society. His 2001 collection of poems, Interrogations at Noon, won the American Book Award.

“I’m delighted to welcome Dana Gioia to the USC faculty,” said Elizabeth Garrett, USC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “As a poet, literary critic, and innovative arts leader, Dana Gioia has demonstrated that poetry—and the arts—do matter. Through initiatives like Poetry Out Loud and The Big Read, he forcefully reminded us that poetry and literature can be oral art forms, inspiring people of all ages to imagine and to think creatively and critically.”

David St. John, an award-winning poet and USC College professor, commented on Gioia’s appointment: “Dana’s poems always reveal his narrative ease and naturalness of diction; he’s partly an old-fashioned storyteller and partly a metaphysical poet of reflection and devotion. From his very first book, which was published twenty-five years ago, he’s always been considered one of this country’s most accomplished formal masters.”

Gioia holds a B.A. and MBA from Stanford University and an M.A. in comparative literature from Harvard University. In 1992, he left a 15-year career as a marketing executive at General Foods to write full time. Also a trained musician, he has written two opera libretti and was the classical music critic at San Francisco magazine for seven years.

He currently directs the Harman-Eisner Program in the Arts at the Aspen Institute. He will continue to work with the Aspen Institute in a new position as the Harman-Eisner Senior Fellow in the Arts.