Gerald Stern is an American master. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1925, Stern himself had no mentors. He grew up in a home without books, child of immigrant parents, and studied philosophy and political science in college. His first book was published in his 48th year, earning him instant critical acclaim. “I thought you read poetry,” he says, “and, like a spider, you did it from the threads of your own belly. So it made me wait for a long time before I got some success. Decades. But at the same time, it made my poetry, whatever came, me.”

When he burst on the scene in the early seventies, the Chicago Tribune Book World anointed Stern “the most startling and tender poet to emerge in America in a decade.” From the start, his poems reflected a deep connection to the natural world and to places and things abandoned. He has gone on to write thirteen books of poetry that ponder the weight of history and the buoyancy of memory, the casual miracles of relationships, and the endless possibilities for joy. They include Lucky Life, the 1977 Academy of American Poets Lamont Poetry Selection, This Time: New and Selected Poems, winner of the 1998 National Book Award, and, most recently American Sonnets. Stern’s many other accolades include a Guggenheim fellowship, three National Endowment for the Arts awards, a PEN award, a fellowship from the Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Ruth Lilly Prize for lifetime Achievement.

In addition to many years on the faculty at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Stern has taught at Columbia University, New York University, Sarah Lawrence College, and the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently on the faculty of the Drew University Low-Residency MFA in Poetry and Poetry in Translation in Madison, NJ. He served as the first Poet Laureate of New Jersey, where he continues to write both poetry and prose, most recently the memoir, What I Can't Bear Losing.

As William Matthews wrote, Stern is “a poet of ferocious heart and rasping sweetness.” His work – like Whitman’s, a transformative celebration of the stuff of daily existence – is as gritty, lush, rageful, sticky, hilarious, and humbling as life itself.


Poems by Gerald Stern

Behaving Like a Jew


Grass and Water




    Poetry Center Reading:
    Fall 2003
    Fall 2011