David Wojahn

David Wojahn (b. 1953) is a major American poet who teaches poetry in the Department of English at Virginia Commonwealth University. He also directs Virginia Commonwealth University's Creative Writing Program. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, he holds degrees from the University of Minnesota and the University of Arizona.


Prior to joining Virginia Commonwealth University, Wojahn taught for many years at Indiana University. He has also taught at University of Alabama, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, University of Chicago, University of Houston, and University of New Orleans.

He has received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Illinois Arts Council, the Indiana Arts Commission, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, as well as writing residencies from the Yaddo and McDowell colonies.

Poetry and Awards

Most of Wojahn's poetry is metrical although he also works in free verse, usually addressing political and social issues in American life. He often takes as his subjects moments of historical significance, such as the assassination of John Lennon. He has said that he hopes his poetry is considered "activist."

The noted poet Richard Hugo selected Wojahn's first book, Icehouse Lights, as a winner of the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets prize. "David Wojahn's poems concern themselves with emotive basics: leaving home, watching those we love age and die, the inescapable drone of our mortality," Hugo wrote. "Yet as poems, they are far from usual. They help us welcome inside, again and again, the most personal of feelings.

Wojahn has gone on to publish six more books of poetry, all with the University of Pittsburgh Press. Glassworks received the Society of Midland Authors’ Award for best book published in 1987. Wojahn has been the recipient of many awards and prizes, including Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship; the William Carlos Williams Award and the Celia B. Wagner Award from the Poetry Society of America; Vermont College’s Crowley/Weingarten Award for Excellence in Teaching; the George Kent Prize from Poetry magazine, and three Pushcart Prizes.

Wojahn has also edited a volume of poetry by his late wife, Lynda Hull, entitled The Only World (HarperPerennial, 1995), as well as her more recent Collected Poems (Graywolf, 2006).

In April 2007, Wojahn was one of two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for his book, Interrogation Palace. He was also the winner of the 2007 O. B. Hardison, Jr. Poetry Prize for Interrogation Palace, a prestigious award given annually by the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Critical Reception

Wojahn's Interrogation Palace has received a number of accolades, and has been received favorably by critics and fellow contemporary American poets.

Peter Campion, writing in Poetry magazine, called the new work "Superb. Powerful, panoramic. In Interrogation Palace Wojahn picked the perfect title: these are poems of both largesse and terror. . . . He writes with as much formal and emotional strength as any poet alive.

"Wojahn’s poems . . . integrate confessional and academic modes with honesty and skill," wrote Fred Muratori in Library Journal.

National Book Award-winner Jean Valentine wrote: "After September 11th, one of the first living poets I thought of was David Wojahn: someone who could follow our tragedy to its grave depths, with dignity and unsparingness, and egolessness, and who would stay with it—and us—as long as need be. For life. His poetry is, as Norman Dubie has said, the poetry of conscience; and here, at the birth of our new century, we are grateful.

Poetry Books

Interrogation Palace: New and Selected Poems 1982-2004 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006)

Spirit Cabinet (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002)

The Falling Hour (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997)

Late Empire (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994)

Mystery Train (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990)

Glassworks (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1987)

Icehouse Lights (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982)


Strange Good Fortune (Arkansas, 2001)

"The Language of My Former Heart" : The Memory-Narrative In Recent American Poetry (Published in Green Mountains Review 1988)

Edited Works

The Only World (HarperPerennial, 1995), a posthumous collection of poetry by Lynda Hull

Profile of Twentieth Century American Poetry, with Jack Myers (Southern Illinois University, 1991)


External links

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