Donald Justice

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Donald Justice (born in Miami, Florida, August 12, 1925 - died in Iowa City, Iowa, August 6, 2004) was an American poet and teacher of writing. He was for many years on the faculty of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the nation's first graduate program in creative writing. He also taught at Syracuse University, the University of California at Irvine, Princeton University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Justice was the author of ten books of poetry. The first book, The Summer Anniversaries, was the winner of the Lamont Poetry Prize given by the Academy of American Poets in 1961; Selected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980. He was awarded the Bollingen Prize in Poetry in 1991, and the Lannan Literary Award in 1996.

His honors also included grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003. His Collected Poems was nominated for the National Book Award in 2004. Justice was also a National Book Award Finalist in 1961, 1974, and 1995.

Of Justice as teacher, his student and later colleague Marvin Bell said in a eulogy, “As a teacher, Don chose always to be on the side of the poem, defending it from half-baked attacks by students anxious to defend their own turf. While he had firm preferences in private, as a teacher Don defended all turfs. He had little use for poetic theory.”

Of his accomplishments as a poet, former student, poet and critic Tad Richards has noted, in an essay for the Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Poets and Poetry, "Donald Justice is likely to be remembered as a poet who gave his age a quiet but compelling insight into loss and distance, and who set a standard for craftsmanship, attention to detail, and subtleties of rhythm."

Major works include these volumes of poetry:

  • The Summer Anniversaries, 1960
  • Night Light, 1967
  • Departures, 1973
  • Selected Poems, 1979
  • The Sunset Maker, 1987
  • A Donald Justice Reader, 1991
  • New and Selected Poems, 1995
  • Collected Poems, 2004

Essay and interview collections:

  • Oblivion: On Writers and Writing, 1998
  • Platonic Scripts, 1984

Edited volumes:

  • Collected Poems of Henri Coulette (with Robert Mezey), 1990 (University of Arkansas Press)
  • Contemporary French Poetry (with Alexander Aspel), 1965
  • The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees, 1960


  • The Young God - A Vaudeville (opera by Edward Miller), 1969
  • The Death of Lincoln: an opera by Edwin London on an original libretto by Donald Justice, 1988

Reference: "A Note on Donald Justice" (biographical sketch).

  • Donald Justice interview.
  • A biography and critical appreciation.
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