Gerald Stern, the first Poet Laureate of New Jersey and newly elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1925, the son of Polish and Ukrainian immigrant parents. He received degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University and spent his twenties living in and traveling between New York City and Europe. He wrote and published poetry in his early twenties but only began to publish extensively in his middle and late forties. He has taught at many universities, including Temple University in Philadelphia, New York University, and, for fourteen years, at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, before retiring in 1995. He is the recipient of many awards, including three National Endowment of the Arts Fellowships, the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts for the state of Pennsylvania, the Lamont Poetry Prize, the Melville Caine Award, the Bernard F. Connor’s Award, the Jerome J. Shestack Poetry Prize, the Bess Hoskin Award, a P.E.N. Award, the Patterson Poetry Prize, the Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets, the Ruth Lilly Prize, and most recently, the 2005 Wallace Stevens Award, given by the Academy of American Poets as a lifetime achievement award in poetry. In 2006 Mr. Stern was appointed Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in addition to winning the National Jewish Book Award for poetry.
Mr. Stern is the author of fifteen books of poetry including This Time: New and Selected Poems, which won the National Book Award in 1998, and most recently Save the Last Dance (2008), Everything is Burning (2005), and American Sonnets (2002), all published by W. W. Norton. The first volume of his collected poems, Early Collected, will be published by W. W. Norton in 2010. His book of personal essays, What I Can’t Bear Losing: Notes From a Life, was released by Norton in November of 2003 and a second, updated version titled A Guest at the World’s Table was published by Trinity University Press in the fall of 2009. Not God After All, a book of aphorisms or petite narratives, was published in October of 2004 by Autumn House Press.
Gerald Stern’s poetry has been variously praised for its visionary quality, its passion, its whole-hearted embrace of life, its scope, its tenderness, its use of paradox and irony. He has been compared extensively to Walt Whitman because of the open form, the long line, the expansiveness and celebratory nature of the poetry, but he is, if anything, a post-Holocaust and a post-nuclear Whitman, and his sources are equally King Lear, the Prophets, Goya and Celan. He has a highly realistic bent and a strong sense of humor, even if sometimes bitter. He is attracted to, and connected with, Hasidic, Talmudic and Jewish mystical writing and is deeply Jewish in his vision, albeit a post-Shtetl east-coast American, Jewish. His literary ancestors are Blake, Coleridge, Marlowe, and Crane.
He has two children, a daughter, Rachael, who is a nutrition therapist and a mother in Huntsville, Alabama, and a son, David, who is an architect in Boston, Massachusetts. Gerald Stern lives in Lambertville, New Jersey, a small city on the Delaware River. His companion is Anne Marie Macari, herself a poet.