Literary Treasures: Remembering Donald Hall

The following post is part of our monthly series, “Literary Treasures,” which highlights audio and video recordings drawn from the Library’s extensive online collections, including the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. By showcasing the works and thoughts of some of the greatest poets and writers from the past 75 years, the series advances the Library’s mission to “further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.”

This month’s “Literary Treasures” post highlights audio and video recordings of former U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall, who died on June 23 at his home in Wilmot, N.H. As befitting a poet of Hall’s influence and stature, obituaries and encomiums of Hall quickly appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and a host of other media outlets. You can read a broad selection of responses to Hall’s passing through our Donald Hall resource guide.

Hall, who served as U.S. Poet Laureate from October 2006 to May 2007, marked the beginning and end of his term with public readings. First, he opened the Library’s literary season on October 23, 2006, with a chronological reading of selected poems, ranging from poems written in his mid-20s (“My Son, My Executioner”) to those written in his 70s (“Affirmation“). His closing program the following May made both national and international news, for he engaged in a historic joint reading with British Poet Laureate Andrew Motion:

Prior to Hall’s term as Poet Laureate, he appeared at the Library, or at Library-sponsored events, several times. In September 2006, three months after his appointment and little more than three weeks before the official start of his laureateship, Hall read his poems at the National Book Festival, then held on the National Mall:

This was Hall’s second National Book Festival appearance. The first occurred the prior year, in September 2005:

More than seven years before his first Book Festival appearance, on March 4, 1999, Hall and future Poet Laureate Charles Simic read their poems in the Library’s Montpelier Room:

And on February 25, 1986, Hall participated in a joint reading with Etheridge Knight in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium:

Hall’s first public program at the Library, a reading and discussion with future Consultant in Poetry William Stafford, took place in the Coolidge Auditorium, March 6, 1967. It is not currently available online.

Biography of Donald Hall

Donald Hall was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1928. He received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College in 1951, and in 1953 his bachelor’s in literature from Oxford University. He spent the final 30 years of his life on Eagle Pond Farm in rural New Hampshire, in the house where his grandmother and mother were born. He had two children from his first marriage and five grandchildren. Hall was married for 23 years to the poet Jane Kenyon, who died in 1995. In 1998, he published Without (Houghton Mifflin), a collection of poems expressing his grief over Kenyon’s death: “The mosaic of a whole period, with all its inner moods and its physical accessories, is masterfully accomplished” (New York Review of Books). Hall died on June 23, 2018.

Hall published nearly 20 books of poetry, beginning with Exiles and Marriages in 1955. In 2015, he published The Selected Poems of Donald Hall (Houghton Mifflin), a volume of his essential life’s work. Among his books for children, Ox-Cart Man won the Caldecott Medal. His more than 20 books of prose include Willow Temple: New and Selected Stories (2003), The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon (2005), Essays After Eighty (2014), and a collection of his essays about poetry, Breakfast Served Any Time All Day (2003). He wrote extensively about life in New Hampshire in Seasons at Eagle Pond (1987) and Here at Eagle Pond (2000). His final book, A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety, was published July 10, 2018.

For his poetry, Donald Hall received the Marshall/Nation Award in 1987 for The Happy Man; both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Award in 1988 for The One Day; the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for lifetime achievement in 1994; two Guggenheim Fellowships; and the National Medal of Arts. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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