ROBERT HASS is a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley and served as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress from 1995 to 1997. During his tenure as Poet Laureate, Professor Hass battled illiteracy by putting into action his belief that, "Imagination makes communities." Of his passion for promoting iteracy, he explains that, "when I got the (Laureate) job I did a lot of reading about literacy...One of the things that struck me was just how powerful a presence poetry has been in our culture when we were, as a people, teaching ourselves to read. At the beginning of the 19th century, less than 60% of American males could write their name, and that was far higher than in most of Europe. If you were black, you could get killed for reading. But we made literacy a civic religion from the idea that you couldn't have a democracy without it, and we taught a whole people to read. It's one of the great achievements of the American democratic experiment -- and one of the indicators of the hunger for literacy, was a taste for poetry."
As Poet Laureate, he also sponsored a weeklong celebration of American nature writing called "Watershed." His commitment to environmental issues led him to found the River of Words poetry contest which is run through the International Rivers Network.
Born in San Francisco in 1941, Professor Hass remembers as a child happening on a poem which, "made me understand what the word `swoon' meant...It was the first physical sensation of the truthfulness of a thing that I had ever felt." He went on to earn his bachelor's degree from St. Mary's College, Moraga, California and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Stanford University. While beginning his teaching career, he entered the Yale Younger Poets competition and won it for his first book, Field Guide. He has also published Praise (1979) for which he won the William Carlos Williams Award of the Poetry Society of America, Human Wishes (1989) which won the Commonwealth Club of California Medal for Poetry, and Sun Under Wood (1996) for which he won the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry.
Professor Hass has also won acclaim for his work in translation and editing, including his work with poet Czeslaw Milosz which won two PEN/BABRA Translation Awards. He edited and translated The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa and wrote a collection of essays, Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry (1984) which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Among his many honors, one which is especially meaningful is having been named Educator of the Year by the North American Association for Environmental Education in 1996 for his work on the River of Words project. Thousands of schoolchildren participate in the program which helps students learn their watershed and their ecological address.
Mr. Hass lives in the Bay Area with his wife, poet Brenda Hillman. They have four children.