English Professor Hass is the Nation's Poet Laureate

English Professor Robert Hass has been appointed the nation's next poet laureate by the U.S. Library of Congress.

Hass is the first poet from the western United States to win this prestigious honor.

With his appointment, he succeeds such notable writers as Robert Penn Warren, Joseph Brodsky and current Poet Laureate Rita Dove.

The Library of Congress has singled out an outstanding American poet to serve at the library every year since 1936.

It is the only honor awarded to poets by the United States government.

As poet laureate, Hass will spend much of the coming year at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., striving to bring attention to the many great works of American poets.

He'll also help plan special literary events and readings at the library's Poetry and Literacy Center.

"I am, of course, pleased and grateful to be named poet laureate," Hass said in an interview from the University of Iowa, where he is spending the spring teaching at the school's Writers Workshop.

"I hope I can at least help to bring to public consciousness the liveliness and intensity of American poetry," he said.

Hass, a Berkeley resident, was born in San Francisco in 1941. He received his BA from St. Mary's College in Moraga and his MA and PhD from Stanford.

After teaching at St. Mary's College for several years, he joined Berkeley's English department in 1989.

Hass' first collection of poetry, "Field Guide" (1973), won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. Another of his collections, "Human Wishes" (1989), earned a silver medal for poetry from California's Commonwealth Club.

Among Hass' other awards and honors are a Danforth fellowship, a MacArthur Fellowship and the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism.

While his first love is writing, Hass said teaching comes in a close second, "especially at UC Berkeley. "The students are amazingly hungry and bright and challenging," he said.

"There is such a changing racial balance, such diversity," he continued, "you get to feel as if you're teaching to the 21st century."

Hass also feels grateful for the opportunity to work among distinguished writers at Berkeley.

"You have talent here like June Jordan and Maxine Hong Kingston and Czeslaw Milosz--it's a pretty astonishing crowd," he said.

His fellow faculty members returned the praise.

"Hass is a poet of great distinction and accomplishment," said Ralph Rader, chair of the English department.

"He's also a wonderful speaker and a very effective teacher. It's very appropriate that he be given this honor," he said.

Hass not only works with the country's most talented writers, he is married to one as well.

His wife, Brenda Hillman, an accomplished poet recently nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, is poet in residence at St. Mary's College of California.

Hass will take up his duties as poet laureate in the fall, opening the library's annual literary series on Thursday, Oct. 12, with a reading of his work.

He plans to commute between Berkeley and Washington during his term so he can continue to teach as much as possible.


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