UW News

April 12, 2000

Poet laureate of United States to be UW commencement speaker

News and Information

The University of Washington has selected Robert Pinsky, the 39th poet laureate of the United States, to be the commencement speaker in ceremonies to be held June 10 in Husky Stadium.

Pinsky, 60, is the only poet laureate ever to be appointed to three consecutive one-year terms. He was first appointed in 1997.

Pinsky’s main undertaking as poet laureate is the “Favorite Poem Project,” in which he selects a broad cross section of Americans reading aloud their favorite poems, as part of the Library of Congress bicentennial. Pinsky will present 200 video and 1,000 audio tapes of the Favorite Poem readings to the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature in April as one of the library’s “birthday gifts to the nation.”

Pinsky teaches in the graduate writing program at Boston University. In addition, he is poetry editor of the online journal Slate and a contributor to “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” on PBS.

His book “The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1965-1995” was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in poetry and also received the Lenore Marshall Award and the Ambassador Book Award of the English Speaking Union. “History of My Heart,” published in 1985, was chosen for the William Carlos Williams Prize of the Poetry Society of America. His collection of essays “Poetry and the World” was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle award in criticism.

His translation of “The Inferno of Dante” was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Award in poetry and the Howard Morton Landon Prize for translation. It has been called “the premier modern text for English-language readers to experience Dante’s power.” His writing also has won awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

His latest collection of poems, “Jersey Rain,” will be published in April. He also is editing the “Norton Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry.”

Pinsky began his artistic career as a saxophone player but switched to poetry in college. Some critics have said that Pinsky uses language the way a jazz musician uses melody–inventing harmonies out of the disharmonious. Pinsky has described the responsibility of the artist as twofold–to continue the art, but also to change the terms of the art.

Pinsky received a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University, and master’s and doctoral degrees from Stanford University, all in English.

Pinsky is visiting Seattle April 26 for two events sponsored by the King County Library System. He will be having an informal question-and-answer session at 3 p.m. at the Redmond Regional Library, 15990 NE 85th. At 7 p.m., at the Kirkland Performance Center, 350 Kirkland Ave., Pinsky will be having a poetry reading, followed by questions and a book signing. For questions about these free events, call 206-684-6650.