Monday, February 16, 2015

RIP Philip Levine

I was sad to read this morning that the poet Philip Levine died Saturday (2/14/15) in Fresno at the age of 87. Levine is most well known for his poetry about the lives of working class people. According to John McMurtrie of the San Francisco Chronicle (2/16/15, p. A8), Levine started working in a factory in Detroit at age 14, wrote poetry even at that age, and promised himself that he would “find a voice for the voiceless,” the working class. That became his life’s work. Levine's poetry is wonderfully written as well as being accessible, and he won several prizes, including a Pulitzer Prize and two National Book Awards. I feel a bit connected to Levine because of where he grew up and where he taught. He grew up in Detroit, a city I lived near for several years. After earning an MFA at the famed Iowa Writers Workshop, and being selected for the Stanford Writing Fellowship, he taught most of his career at California State University, Fresno, a city where several of my close family members live, and one which, although I have never lived there myself, I have visited several times a year for decades. But most of all, being interested in issues of social class, and addressing them in my academic writing, I am drawn to the fact that he spoke for the working class. His death is a great loss, but he leaves a distinct and important legacy.
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