Donald Justice

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Donald Justice (1925-2004) was an American poet and professor, known for his often elegaic, yet frequently witty, poetry on themes including childhood, mortality, and the early-twentieth-century American south; for his masterful use and adaptation of traditional poetic form; and for his admiration for the philosophical poet Wallace Stevens.

Donald Rodney Justice was born August 12, 1925, in Miami, Florida. Early in his college years he studied music with the composer Carl Ruggles, but decided to concentrate on literature instead. He received a B.A. in English from the University of Miami, and an M.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After studying poetry briefly with Yvor Winters at Stanford University, he entered the University of Iowa, where, although he attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he earned a Ph.D. instead of the usual Master of Fine Arts degree.

Justice taught at Iowa for a total of twenty years, with shorter appointments at other colleges including Syracuse University; the University of California, Berkeley; Princeton University; and the University of Florida. Among his students were the poets Rita Dove, Jorie Graham, Clare Rossini, Mark Strand, and James Tate, and the novelist John Irving.

His volume of Selected Poems was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1980. He won the Bollingen Prize in 1991 along with Laura Riding Jackson.

He was offered the post of United States Poet Laureate in 2003 but declined because of poor health. He died on August 6, 2004, in Iowa City, Iowa, just as his Collected Poems was about to be published.


Andrew Rosenheim, “Donald Justice” [obituary], The Independent (U.K.), Aug. 18, 2004.

Wolfgang Saxon, “Donald Justice, 78, a Poet Admired for Precise Beauty,” The New York Times, Aug. 10, 2004.