Donald Hall is a multi-award winning poet, novelist and children’s writer, a sometime sports journalist and editor who has spent the best part of seventy years setting down his thoughts on subjects ranging from living the rural life in New England, baseball and relating the work we do to our contribution to society through that work. At a particularly tragic time in his life he dedicated a lot of his poetry to Jane Kenyon, the wife he lost through leukaemia. He has a passion for revision where he can demonstrate that writing is a craft above and beyond simply being a mode of self expression. His prodigious output has earned him countless awards including two Guggenheim Fellowships and a Robert Frost Medal.
Donald was born an only child in 1928 in Hamden which lies in Connecticut, USA. He had a good education, firstly at the Phillips Exeter Academy, before moving on in 1951 to Harvard then Oxford two years later, gaining bachelor’s degrees at both places. The seeds of a long and distinguished writing career were sown in his early teens where he wrote a number of short stories and poems. At only 16 years of age he met Robert Frost at a Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and his first published work was out within the year.
Following a successful and busy two years at Oxford, Hall was back in the States where he was a Creative Writing Fellow at Stanford University followed by another three years at Harvard where he joined the Society of Fellows. His initial book, which was titled Exiles and Marriages was published during this time and he also collaborated with Louis Simpson and Robert Pack on
The New Poets of England and America
This was a book which received critical acclaim both in the US and in Europe. He met his wife to be, Jane Kenyon, who was also a poet while teaching at the University of Michigan and they wed in 1972, setting up home at the place where Hall still lives in New Hampshire.
Life with Jane was good but their happy idyll was violently interrupted when, at the age of 61, Donald found out that he had been stricken with colon cancer which eventually spread through his body, including his liver. He was given only a short time to live but somehow survived it only to be dealt a further hammer blow five years later when Jane was diagnosed with leukaemia. Tragically she died just over a year later and he wrote a book called Without in 1998, documenting the illness and his struggle to cope with the loss of his beloved wife. He also dedicated a collection of poems called Painted Bed to Jane which was a follow up, describing how he recovered from the loss and how he made a new life for himself.
One more tribute to Jane came in the form of his 2005 book, a memoir titled The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon which was a moving and intimate account of their marriage of 23 years. Donald Hall has some fifteen books of poetry to his name along with a number of collections of short stories and essays such as Life Work and String Too Short to be Saved. He has written three plays and eleven children’s books including the book that won him the Caldecott Medal – Ox-Cart Man. The title poem from this collection, a beautifully told tale of the annual, repeated cycle of a simple farmer, is reproduced below. He was Poet Laureate for the United States during the year 2006 and he is now enjoying his twilight years at his farm in Wilmot, New Hampshire.