Dana Gioia, the Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, said he is probably the only person in the world who went to business school to become a poet.
“I always wanted to be a poet, but I had to figure out how a poet made a living,” Gioia said. “I wrote at night and on weekends for all the years I was in business, and when there came a point when I had to choose between business and poetry, I chose poetry.”
Since leaving his job of 15 years as a marketing executive at General Foods to focus solely on poetry, Gioia appears to have had no trouble turning his passion into a career. He has since published four collections of poetry, one of which won the 2002 American Book Award, and has served as chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts from 2003 to 2009.
Besides his involvement at USC, Gioia’s will serve as head of the panel of literary scholars who will select the first-ever poet laureate for Los Angeles. The committee is currently evaluating candidates and will announce their appointment on Nov. 1.
“There are at least three qualities that we would like to see in a poet laureate: literary excellence, an enthusiasm for public service and a meaningful connection to Los Angeles,” Gioia said.
According to Gioia, a poet laureate will serve a practical function in terms of visiting schools, libraries and other public organizations to bring the community increased access to the arts. In addition, he believes that the position will serve a greater symbolic purpose to the city.
“Los Angeles is the center of 21st-century arts. This city is driven by creative energy,” Gioia said. “It is therefore fitting to have, as part of the civic structure, an artist whose role there symbolizes the importance of creativity, art and the imagination to a free and prosperous society.”
It is Gioia’s personal affinity for poetry that has allowed him to recognize the importance of a poet laureate’s potential contributions to Los Angeles. He believes poetry is “the most concise, expressive, and communicative way to use language,” and that it allows people to articulate what it means to be human.
Gioia accepted his first full-time university appointment at USC in 2010 and is now involved in several professional schools, including the Sol Price School of Public Policy, the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the Thornton School of Music and the Marshall School of Business. He currently teaches an Arts and Letters poetry class and a special topics course in arts leadership and entrepreneurship.
Gioia sees his role at USC as more than just teaching in the classroom.
“Last year, I said yes to every invitation I had anywhere in the university,” he said. “I gave general talks to classes, student organizations and other community groups.”
Gioia has also partaken in several Visions and Voices programs, including an event on Monday with former U.S. poet laureate Kay Ryan.
Gioia said one of his most valuable experiences as a professor has been working with all kinds of students in multiple subject areas, an interest he has become more involved in through the USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study. These unique opportunities for collaboration of different arts are what Gioia said have allowed USC to stand out among other universities.
“USC is not only full of energy but full of confidence that it will become better and better with each year,” Gioia said. “I find it exciting to be part of a great institution entering a golden age.”