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Philip Levine coming to ECU

April 2, 2012

ECU News Services

The great American “working man’s poet” will visit East Carolina University in late April for a public reading of his work.

U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine (Contributed photo by Matt Valentine

Philip Levine, named U.S. Poet Laureate by the Library of Congress in August 2011, will be on campus for the Contemporary Writers Series, which is sponsored by the ECU Division of Research and Graduate Studies and the Department of English. The series aims to expose students and other readers to award-winning fiction and nonfiction writers, translators and poets.

Levine will read from his work at 8 p.m. April 25 at the Greenville Museum of Art on Evans Street. An avid fan of John Coltrane and other jazz greats, the poet and arriving guests will be welcomed by the music of a jazz trio.

The event is free and open to the university community and public. 

Levine was born and raised in Detroit, a city which figures prominently in his poetry. He worked several industrial jobs before leaving Michigan in 1953 for the University of Iowa, where he studied at the Writer’s Workshop under influential poets Robert Lowell and John Berryman. He later moved to California and taught for many years at California State University, Fresno and New York University. Now retired, Levine resides in Fresno, Calif., and Brooklyn, N.Y., with his wife.

Author of more than 20 books of poetry, essays, and translations, Levine won the National Book Award in 1991 for his collection, “What Work Is,” and the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for “The Simple Truth.” He has also received numerous other awards, including the first American Book Award for Poetry and, on two occasions, the National Critics Circle Book Award. His most recent collection, “News of the World,” was published in 2010.

Librarian of Congress James Billington, who selected Levine as poet laureate, describes him as a poet of “the industrial heartland.” Known for his urban landscapes and working-class themes, Levine has been seen as an American poet in the tradition of Walt Whitman.

Tom Douglass, a literature professor in ECU’s Department of English and one of the organizers of the Contemporary Writers Series, believes there is no better time to hear the poetry of Levine firsthand, given the nation’s weak economic state and fading industrial landscape.

“The working life of our country is on its knees, and Levine is often read as an activist for the working class, a voice for those whose voices are increasingly not being heard,” said Douglass.

“Our young people seem to understand that what they need is meaningful work that leads to dignity and a sense of self-worth,” said poet John Hoppenthaler, Contemporary Writers Series committee member and ECU professor.

“They seem to know, as Levine’s wonderful poem ‘What Work Is’ suggests, that compassion and love are byproducts of the solidity and possibility that good jobs provide. With so little meaningful work currently available, all that remains is for the outraged and disenfranchised to occupy public areas across America to express their discontent. No one other than Phil Levine ought to be poet laureate in times such as these.”

Now in its second year, the Contemporary Writers Series brought novelists Colm Tóibín and Colum McCann to campus in 2011. In 2012 the series aims to highlight American poets, and following Levine’s visit in April, poet and Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Tretheway will visit ECU in the fall.

The CWS is dedicated to hosting the best writers working today for the benefit of students and the university community, Douglass said.

For more information about Levine’s visit or the Contemporary Writers Series at ECU, contact Tom Douglass at or Liza Wieland at

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