Poet Dana Gioia will receive this year’s Laetare Medal award at the Notre Dame University’s 16 May commencement. Gioia is former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as a poet, essayist, translator, librettist, and man of letters.
The Laetare award, instituted in 1883, is the U.S. Catholic Church’s oldest and most prestigious honor. Following the medal’s presentation, Gioia will offer an address alongside the commencement’s main speaker — this year, Brian Williams, anchor of the NBC Nightly News.
Previous winners include John F. Kennedy, Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Dorothy Day, Walker Percy, Dave Brubeck, Sister Helen Prejean, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Helen Hayes, and Clare Boothe Luce. You can read more here.
Gioia’s appointment to the NEA was about the only popular move made by the Bush administration, and one of the few that worked out well. Business Week hailed Dana in 2006 as “The Man Who Saved the NEA.”
The award made headlines last year when Mary Ann Glendon declined the honor a month after her selection, and a few weeks before the ceremony. Because of that, you’d have expected the award announcement this year to have made a little bit more noise. But hardly a word so far — not even from the usually loquacious New York Times. A google alert for my own name gave me a heads-up — many of the news clippings so far are citing my 2003 Commonweal article about Dana, which you can read in full here, and so I quickly emailed my congratulations to the poet, who now divides his time between California and Washington D.C.
I met Dana over a decade ago, when I was a free-lance journalist and cold-called him in his Santa Rosa home — a tiny photo of it here, with my profile in 2000. If awards are given for one of the most generous spirits I know, it should go to Dana, patron saint of free-lance literary journalists looking for good sources and story ideas. He is even better as a friend.
Linda Cicero’s photo above is from his address at the Stanford University commencement in 2007. I wrote about that, too, here.