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Biography: Robert Pinsky

United States Poet Laureate (1997–2000), Translator, Essayist, and Teacher

Robert Pinsky’s first two terms as United States Poet Laureate were marked by such visible dynamism, and such national enthusiasm in response, that the Library of Congress appointed him to an unprecedented third term. Throughout his career, Pinsky has been dedicated to identifying and invigorating poetry’s place in the world.

As Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky became a public ambassador for poetry, founding the Favorite Poem Project, in which thousands of Americans — of varying backgrounds, all ages, and from every state — shared their favorite poems. Pinsky believed that, contrary to stereotype, poetry had a vigorous presence in the American cultural landscape. The project sought to document that presence, giving voice to the American audience for poetry. The anthology Americans’ Favorite Poems, which include letters from project participants, is in its 18th printing. The most recent anthology, An Invitation to Poetry, comes with a DVD featuring 27 of the FPP video segments, as seen on PBS. In April 2009, WW Norton will publish Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud; a CD will accompany the book.

Elegant and tough, vividly imaginative, Pinsky’s poems have earned praise for their wild musical energy and ambitious range. His book Gulf Music (FSG, fall 2007) is his seventh volume of poetry. His The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996 was a Pulitzer Prize nominee and received the Lenore Marshall Award and the Ambassador Book Award of the English Speaking Union. His most recent chapbook is entitled First Things to Hand (Sarabande, May 2006).


“Pinsky is our finest living specimen of this sadly rare breed, and the poems of Gulf Music are among the best examples we have of poetry’s ability to illuminate not only who we are as humans, but who we are — and can be — as a nation.” 

The New York Times Book Review


Pinsky’s books about poetry include Poetry and the World, nominated for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award, The Sounds of Poetry, and more recently,Democracy, Culture and the Voice of Poetry. Pinsky contends that, though intimate, poetry addresses cultural needs by communicating a shared set of social meanings, a paradox that becomes part of his effort to demonstrate the complexity of American poetry.

Robert Pinsky’s landmark, best-selling translation of The Inferno of Dantereceived the Los Angeles Times Book Award in poetry and the Howard Morton Landon Prize for translation. He is also co-translator of The Separate Notebooks, poems by Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz. Pinsky’s prose book, The Life of David, is a lively retelling and examination of the David stories, narrating a wealth of legend as well as scripture.

The poetry editor for the online magazine Slate, for seven years Pinsky appeared regularly on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. He writes the weekly “Poet’s Choice” column for the Washington Post. He was elected in 1999 to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Pinsky’s poems appear in magazines such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The Threepenny Review, American Poetry Review, and frequently in The Best American Poetry anthologies. He teaches in the graduate writing program at Boston University. Robert Pinsky is also the winner of the PEN/Voelcker Award, the William Carlos Williams Prize, the Lenore Marshall, and the National Foundation for Jewish Culture’s 2006 Jewish Cultural Achievement Award in Literary Arts. He is one of the few members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters to have appeared on “The Simpsons.”


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