Philip Levine was born in Detroit in 1928, to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, and educated at Wayne State University, the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and Stanford University. The author of twenty collections of poetry, his honors included the Pulitzer Prize, two National Book Awards, and two National Book Critic Circle Awards.
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Levine's first book of poems, On the Edge (1963), won the Joseph Henry Jackson Award and was published by the Stone Wall Press. His subsequent poetry collections include the following:
- Not This Pig (Wesleyan University Press, 1968)
- Red Dust (Kayak, 1971)
- Pili's Wall (Unicorn Press, 1971)
- They Feed They Lion (Atheneum, 1972)
- 1933 (Atheneum, 1974)
- The Names of the Lost (Atheneum, 1976), winner of the Lenore Marshall Award
- 7 Years from Somewhere (Atheneum, 1979), winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
- Ashes (Atheneum, 1978), winner of the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award
- One for the Rose (Atheneum, 1981)
- Selected Poems (Atheneum, 1984)
- Sweet Will (Atheneum, 1985)
- A Walk With Tom Jefferson (Alfred A. Knopf, 1988), winner of the Bay Area Book ReviewersAssociation award
- What Work Is (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), winner of the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
- New Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991)
- The Simple Truth (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), winner of the Pulitzer Prize
- The Mercy (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999)
- Unselected Poems (Greenhouse Review Press, 1997)
- Breath (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004)
- News of the World (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009)
As an editor, Levine published The Essential Keats (Ecco Press, 1987), and he published two books of translations: Tarumba: The Selected Poems of Jaime Sabines, with Ernesto Trejo (Twin Peaks Press, 1979, republished by Sarabande Books in 2007) and Off the Map: The Selected Poems of Gloria Fuerte, with Ada Long (Wesleyan University Press, 1984). In 1981 the University of Michigan Press published Don't Ask, a collection of Levine's interviews, under its "Poets on Poetry" Series, and in 2002 followed with So Ask: Essays, Conversations, and Interviews. In 1994 Alfred A. Knopf also published his essay collection, The Bread of Time: Toward an Autobiography, which was republished by the University of Michigan Press in 2001.
Levine's other prizes included the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Modern Poetry Association and the American Council on the Arts (now from the Poetry Foundation), the Frank O’Hara Prize and the Levenson Prize from Poetry magazine, the Harriet Monroe Poetry Award from the University of Chicago, an award of merit from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Elmer Holmes Bobst Award from New York University, and the Golden Rose from the New England Poetry Society. He inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1997, elected as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2000, and elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002. He has received three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts—for which he served as the chairman of the literature board in 1984—and two John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowships.
Levine taught Literature and Creative Writing at California State University, Fresno from 1958-1992. In 1970, Levine was chosen Outstanding Professor at the University, and the following year he was chosen Outstanding Professor for the California State University System. He also taught or served as a writer-in-residence at the University of California, Berkeley; Vassar College; Vanderbilt University; Princeton University; Tufts University; Columbia University; the University of Houston; New York University; and elsewhere.
In his later years, he divided his time between Fresno, California, and Brooklyn, New York, before his death in early 2015.