U.S. Poet Laureate Levine to speak at WMU's Schneider Hall

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Photo of Philip Levine.

Levine: Photo courtesy of Jim Wilson and The New York Times.

KALAMAZOO—Poet Philip Levine, lauded as an "ironic Whitman of the industrial heartland," will visit Western Michigan University for a public reading of his work at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28.

Levine is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and the 18th United States Poet Laureate, serving in that capacity for 2011-12. His free public appearance is scheduled for Brown Auditorium in Schneider Hall, home to WMU's business college.

A Detroit native, Levine worked in the auto industry, and his poetry is best known for its urban perspective and its depiction of blue-collar life. His published collections of poems include "News of the World," published in 2009, and "What Work Is," which won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1991. That is one of two National Book Awards Levine has won. The first was in 1980 for "Ashes: Poems Old and New."

Levine's "The Simple Truth" was his 15th collection of poems published and includes 33 poems that examine memory, history and myth. "The Simple Truth" won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1995.

That book is frequently referenced by those praising the poet. Upon Levine's appointment as Poet Laureate in August 2011, for instance, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said, "Philip Levine is one of America's great narrative poets. His plainspoken lyricism has, for half a century, championed the art of telling 'The Simple Truth'...."

"The enthusiasm among our students at every level is particularly high," says Dr. William Olsen, editor of New Issues Poetry and Prose. "Levine has a reputation as being a wonderful reader who engages the crowd, and his poetry is always companionable and generous. I believe he is the best role-model poet in the nation."

Olsen says the late Herb Scott, who founded New Issues Poetry and Prose, was a student of Levine's in the 1960s. In 1999, when the press launched its first poetry prize, Scott made the strategic decision to invite Levine to judge the first competition as a way of conveying the level of quality the new prize was designed to honor. Scott and Levine also once did a reading together in Prague at WMU's annual Summer Writing Program.

Philip Levine

Levine earned a bachelor's degree from Wayne State University and a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Iowa. He has taught in writing programs across the nation, including California State University-Fresno, from which he retired in 1992 after 34 years on the faculty. He also has taught at New York University and been a Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at Columbia, Princeton, Brown and Tufts universities and the University of California-Berkeley.

Levine's visit to WMU is sponsored by New Issues Press, the College of Arts and Sciences, WMU Center for the Humanities, Department of English, and the Third Coast Writing Project.

For more information about Levine's visit to WMU, contact Dr. William Olsen, editor of New Issues Poetry and Prose, at william.olsen@wmich.edu or (269) 387-8185.