Hall’s early life and education:
Donald Hall was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1928, the only son of a businessman. He went to prep school at Phillips Exeter and began writing poems and short stories as a teenager. When he was just 16, he attended Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, where he met Robert Frost, and that year he published his first poem. He earned a B.A. at Harvard, a B.Litt. at Oxford, studied with Yvor Winters as a Creative Writing Fellow at Stanford, then returned to spend three years at Harvard in the Society of Fellows.
Hall’s professional career:
In 1957, Hall joined the faculty at the University of Michigan, where he taught until 1975 and where he met Jane Kenyon when she was a student. They married in 1972; three years later he gave up his academic career and they went to live in rural New Hampshire on his great-grandfather’s farm, Eagle Pond. Since then Hall has made his living as a prolific freelance writer and editor, producing reviews, textbooks, sports essays, memoirs, anthologies, children’s stories, plays and of course, poems. He was named U.S. Poet Laureate in 2006.
Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon:
Living and working together at Eagle Pond, Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon were a much-respected couple in American poetry, the subjects of Bill Moyers’ 1993 public television program, A Life Together. In 1989, at the age of 61, Hall was diagnosed with colon cancer and endured several surgeries and chemotherapy before going into remission three years later, when he was given a 1 in 3 chance of surviving. In an awful, incomprehensible irony, Kenyon, 20 years younger than her husband, died of leukemia in 1995.
Since his wife’s death, Hall’s poetry has grown more autobiographical and elegiac, recording the quotidian bliss of their life together, the harrowing awfulness of her illness and death, and his mourning after. But the 60 years of poems in his Selected Poems, 1946 - 2006 (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) reveal a breadth and variety of subjects and forms, what William Pritchard called “amplitude and distinction” in his review in The Washington Times. Having lived as sophisticated scholar, rural farm dweller and sports writer, Hall writes authentically about all kinds of people.
In his review of White Applies and the Taste of Stone, Billy Collins noted Hall’s “reliance on simple, concrete diction and the no-nonsense sequence of the declarative sentence” and his “love of storytelling.” But Hall is also a bit of a formalist — one of his baseball poems is 9 stanzas of 9 lines each of 9 syllables. And he is a firm believer in poetry as a craft, requiring concentration work and attentive rewriting — witness his interview with Martin Lammon, entitled “Flying Revision’s Flag.”
Books by Donald Hall:
- White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006 (book + CD, Houghton Mifflin, 2006)
- The Best Day The Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon (memoir, Houghton Mifflin, 2005; Mariner Books paperback forthcoming, 2007)
- Breakfast Served Any Time All Day: Essays on Poetry New and Selected (University of Michigan Press, 2003; paperback, 2004)
- The Painted Bed (poems, Houghton Mifflin, 2002; Mariner Books paperback, 2003)
- The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children’s Poems (anthology ed. Donald Hall, Oxford University Press, 1999; paperback, 2001)
- Without (poems, Houghton Mifflin, 1998; Mariner Books paperback, 1999)
- Life Work (essays, Beacon Press, 1993; paperback, 1994 & 2003)
- The One Day (book-length poem, Ticknor & Fields, 1988; Mariner Books paperback, 1988)
- Seasons at Eagle Pond (essays, Houghton Mifflin, 1987; Ticknor & Fields paperback, 1991)
- The Man Who Lived Alone (children’s story illustrated by Mary Azarian, David R. Godine, 1984; paperback, 1998)
- Fathers Playing Catch with Sons: Essays on Sport (Mostly Baseball) (essays, North Point Press, 1984)
- Ox-Cart Man (children’s story illustrated by Barbara Cooney, Viking Juvenile, 1979; Puffin paperback, 1983)