Connecting California

Dana Gioia’s historic county tour

Dana Gioia recites from his recent book, 99 Poems: New & Selected, at the Gathering of California Poets Laureate in Tujunga on October 6. Photo by Farah Sosa.

California is big.

We’ve all seen the overlay maps that offer perspective — the Golden State’s outline looming large over the European continent, its coastline flipped and laid along the length of the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.

Perhaps that’s why it’s taken two years, 16 flights, and 17,000 miles on the road for California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia to see it all.

Earlier this week, Gioia completed his two-year term as laureate and an ambitious statewide poetry tour to every California county. The poet and former NEA chairman held his final event on Tuesday at his last stop, № 58: Hanford Library in Kings County, in the San Joaquin Valley.

“We ended things with a bang — a nice crowd, a live band, ten poets, and a dozen freight-train whistles blasting by,” said Gioia.

Gioia in Kings County, his final stop on his poetry tour to every county in California.
“We ended things with a bang — a nice crowd, a live band, ten poets, and a dozen freight-train whistles blasting by,” said Gioia.

Each poet to assume the role of state laureate is required to take on a significant cultural project during their tenure, with a goal of exposing people to poetry in areas and circumstances that may otherwise have little. Suffice to say that a tour traversing the state to reach all 58 counties qualifies remarkably — it’s a first for any California poet laureate.

“My aim as California poet laureate was to reach the whole state, not just the literary centers,” said Gioia. “Visiting every county in this huge state to create events with local writers was not just an adventure — it was fun. I traveled through astonishing landscapes, and everywhere I went, big town or small, I met poets, musicians, and artists.”

At each scheduled event — 116 in total — area artists of all disciplines were regularly involved and invited, promoting an exchange of ideas, creative connection, and collaboration. The poet and former NEA chairman appeared with more than 500 individuals over the course of the tour.

In early October, Gioia added yet another ambitious undertaking to his term, uniting more than 60 city, county, regional and state laureates, past and present, in a historic gathering and group reading at the McGroarty Arts Center in Tujunga. Another first: The event marked the only large-scale gathering of California’s laureates since the termed position of state poet laureate was first established in 2001.

At the gathering, the California Arts Council commemorated Gioia’s achievements with a proclamation in recognition of his outstanding service to the state.

“We are extremely grateful to Dana for all his efforts in his role as poet laureate, which have been nothing short of extraordinary,” said Anne Bown-Crawford, California Arts Council Executive Director. “His unique perspective and tireless dedication demystifies poetry for the uninitiated and galvanizes creative energy for all. Californians, and the art of poetry, have both been elevated by his service.”

Gioia undoubtedly shares a similar sentiment. “Serving as laureate has been one of the great experiences of my life,” he said.


Dana Gioia served as “poetry’s public servant” from his appointment by Governor Jerry Brown in December 2015 until October 2018. More information on Dana Gioia’s work as laureate can be found at the California Poet Laureate website.