Dana Gioia proposed by the White House to head National Endowment for the Arts:
- He is a writer with a background as a businessman. He is a registered Republican who voted for George W. Bush and for his father before that. His poetry is not political. His criticism, essays and reviews are not polemical. Rather, Mr. Gioia (pronounced JOY-a) appears to be someone with a wide range of artistic and intellectual interests who is passionate about making poetry more accessible to the public.
Yes, his essay “Can Poetry Matter?,” which appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1991 and then in a collection of his essays, angered academics because he accused them of making poetry an insular enterprise. Yes, he offended some people on the West Coast when he was quoted in an interview as saying that no great poet ever came out of California. (He said he specified Los Angeles.) And sure, some members of Congress might be curious about his support of environmental groups or whether there is anything sinister in the libretto he wrote for an opera – “Nosferatu” – since it is based on the Dracula story.
But for the most part Mr. Gioia’s fellow writers admire and respect him and say his range of talents and mild temperament make him suited to lead the often embattled art organization. They point out that his desire to bring art to a broader audience fits in with the endowment’s current emphasis on education.
“Dana is a Renaissance man who is passionate about the literary arts but also avidly dedicated to the opera, the theater, ballet and the music world,” said Elise Paschen, former executive director of the Poetry Society of America, where Mr. Gioia is a vice president.
“He is someone who has always encouraged the work of young poets,” Ms. Paschen continued, “and wants to make the arts – and the literary arts in particular – a part of the mainstream of American culture and not sequester it at the university level.”
Mr. Gioia, 51, is in many ways old school, given that his heroes are the writers and thinkers of the 1930’s and 40’s: Lionel Trilling, George Orwell, Edmund Wilson, Randall Jarrell.
Growing up in working-class Hawthorne, Calif. – his father drove a cab, his mother worked behind the soda fountain at a drugstore – Mr. Gioia was surrounded by people who did not go to college. But his uncle, who lived with the family, had shelves of books, musical scores and records that Mr. Gioia devoured: Goethe in German, Dante in Italian, Pushkin in Russian.
The youngster began to spend most of his time at the Hawthorne public library, where he found himself drawn in particular to books about art. “I was the only 14-year-old eighth grader in Hawthorne who had a subscription to Art News,” he said in a telephone interview. “My mother would make sure it didn’t have naked pictures.”…