Robert Dana 1929-2010

The writer who revived the North American Review in the 1960s and went on to serve as Iowa’s Poet Laureate from 2004 through 2008, Robert Dana, died on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010, at Mercy Hospice in Iowa City.  The cause was pancreatic cancer.  A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, March 28, in Cornell College’s King Chapel, followed by a reception in Cole Library. A memorial reading will be held at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, March 27, in the Becker Communications Studies Building, Room 101, on the University of Iowa campus.

Robert Dana, 1929-2010

Dana founded and served as Editor-in-Chief for the revived North American Review from 1964 through 1968.  He helped to negotiate a special arrangement with then-Senator Claiborn Pell of Rhode Island, who claimed rights to the magazine, which had published such important writers as Walt Whitman and Mark Twain for 125 years until it ceased operation in 1940.

At the time, Dana was also teaching English literature at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa.  When he retired in 1994 after 40 years of teaching, he was the college’s Poet-in-Residence.  He also served as a visiting writer at Stockholm University, Beijing University, and several American colleges and universities, including University of Florida, Wayne State University, University of Idaho, and Wichita State University.

Dana received his M.A. from The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1954, where he studied with Robert Lowell and John Berryman and was part of a group of writers that included Donald Justice, Henri Coulette, Jane Cooper, and Philip Levine.  Dana’s poetry won several awards, among them, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships (1985, 1993) and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award from New York University (1989).

On the occasion of the Delmore Schwartz Award – to an “insufficiently recognized mature poet” – the critic M.L. Rosenthal described Dana this way:  “A richly lyrical poet.  Very hard on himself and on the Karma of our world, whose work this whole country would recognize itself in, if it ever started to open books of poems.”

His works include 10 full-length books of poetry.  In addition, he produced two prose books – the recently reissued Against the Grain: Interviews with Maverick American Publishers (University of Iowa, 1986 and 2009) and a collection of essays in tribute to Paul Engle, A Community of Writers:  Paul Engle & The Iowa Writers’ Workshop (University of Iowa, 1999).   Dana’s last two books will be issued in April of this year—New & Selected Poems 1955 to 2010 (Anhinga), and a book of essays, Paris on the Flats: Versions of a Literary Life (University of Tampa).

Robert Patrick (“RP”) Dana was born June 2, 1929, in Boston.  Orphaned at age 7, he was a foster child in the Francis (“Pop”) Kearney home in Haydenville, Mass., through high school.  After serving in the South Pacific at the end of World War II, he attended college on the GI Bill, and moved to Iowa after a year at Holyoke Junior (now Community) College.  He received his B.A. from Drake University in Des Moines, where he studied with poet E.L. Mayo and worked at the sports desk of the Des Moines Register.

Dana is survived by his wife of 35 years, Peg (Sellen) Dana of Coralville, Iowa; three children from his previous marriage – Lori Dana (Andy Dixon) of Chicago, Ill., Arden Dana (Aniceto Botello) of Austin, Texas, and Richard Dana (Ericka) of Guernsey, Iowa; parents-in-law Albert and Jane Sellen (Lawrence, Kan., formerly of Sioux City, Iowa); sister-in-law Janet (Sellen) McGrane (Michael) of Livingston, N.J.; brothers-in-law John Sellen (Mary Sue Lobenstein) of Minneapolis, Minn., and Eric Sellen (Ron Seidman) of Phoenix, Ariz; and nephews Paul McGrane (Austin, Texas) and Brian McGrane (Venice, Calif.)  – and a legion of students, fellow writers, and readers.  He was preceded in death by his parents and sister.

Contributions in his honor may be made to Cornell College, the Pancreatic Action Network, or Iowa City/Mercy Hospice.

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