Last August, I had the privilege of interviewing and profiling Philip Levine, named by the Library of Congress to be the U.S. poet laureate.
Levine, winner of the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize, has long lived in the Central Valley but has made a career of writing about the gritty industrial heartland of places like Detroit, where he was born and grew up. I've known him since childhood in Fresno, where he and my father worked in the English Department of what was then known as Fresno State University.
Levine will soon be making an appearance in Sacramento. He is scheduled to speak on Saturday, June 2 at 7 p.m. as part of the "Summerwords" program at American River College. The event is sponsored by the Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation and the American River College Foundation.
A few days later, I will be interviewing Levine in Fresno, in a June 5 public event sponsored by Zocalo Public Square. Entitled "Is social isolation a threat to democracy?," my interview with Levine will attempt to draw him out on how he sees the future of U.S. society in an era when people can easily tune out or retreat to their favorite political echo chambers.
It will be interesting to see how Levine addresses this question. As a poet, he has purposefully isolated himself for much of his career in Fresno, where he could focus on his writing. Sometimes, you could argue, an artist has to separate himself or herself to seek a greater truth.
Yet even in isolation, the best artists must stay connected with society and the audiences that will appreciate (and perhaps purchase) their work. Much of America is separating itself for far different reasons.
I am sure Levine won't be shy in laying those out.
Photo courtesy of Kurt Hegre of the Fresno Bee.