Library of Congress recognizes former Fresno State professor

The Library of Congress has appointed former Fresno State English professor Philip Levine new poet laureate consultant on Aug. 10.

The U.S. Library of Congress appoints a poet laureate annually and describes the position as “the nation’s official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans.”

The appointee is awarded a $35,000 stipend to help him/her fulfill his/her duties.

The 83-year-old former Fresno State professor and Pulitzer Prize winner Levine is “highly regarded throughout the literary community, and one of the most well respected living poets in the nation,” Associated Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities Jose Diaz said.

Levine taught in the English department at Fresno State from 1958 to 1992. He also taught at Princeton, Columbia and New York University adding to his long list of prestigious accomplishments.

Levine is best known for his poems focusing on the working class in Detroit where he worked in an automobile factory during his youth.

Former student of Levine and current Fresno State English professor Tim Skeen describes the announcement as “the best news to come out of Washington, D.C. in a long time.”

In a recent interview for The New York Times, Levine referred to his job at Fresno State as “not a good job, but a job.”

“Phil [taught at Fresno State] during some of the most turbulent times in the country and university’s history, Vietnam, for example, the protests, the riots of the farmworkers, Cesar Chavez’s period,” Skeen said.

He was here during a very contentious time, and I think that those times brought the best in people, and brought out the worst in people.”

Levine mentions and describes his experiences in Fresno through several of his poems. In one titled “The Silent American,” he writes about living in Fresno.

“Fresno is as much part of his work as nouns and verbs,” Skeen said.

Levine currently resided in Fresno and Brooklyn, New York.

“Phil’s presence is still very keenly felt. What he thinks, what he says matters to us, it matters to the nation now,” Skeen said.

Phil processed the images into his poems,” Skeen added. “Living in Fresno while studying the poetry of Phil Levine is like unraveling a sweater to see where the ball of yarn came from.”

The master of fine arts and creative writing program is one of the many legacies Levine has created at Fresno State. A program, which is “nationally recognized,” Diaz said. “We have an outstanding and distinguished faculty [who are] award winning authors.”

Aside from his many accomplishments, such as receiving a Pulitzer Prize in 1995, a National Book Award in 1980 and 1991, and a Frank O’Hara Prize, Levine has also written 20 collections of poems.

A celebration to honor Levine is currently being planned by the MFA creative writing faculty and the Henry Madden Library. The event is planned to take place sometime in October, which is National Arts and Humanity month.

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