He taught for over thirty years at the English Department of California State University, Fresno and held teaching positions at other universities as well. He is appointed to serve as the Poet Laureate of the United States for 2011–2012.
Philip Levine grew up in industrial Detroit, the second of three sons and the first of identical twins of Jewish immigrant parents. His father, Harry Levine owned a used auto parts business, his mother Esther Priscol (Prisckulnick) Levine was a bookseller. When Levine was five years old, his father died. Growing up, he faced the anti-Semitism embodied by the pro-Hitler radio priest Father Coughlin.
Levine started to work in car manufacturing plants at the age of 14. He graduated from Detroit Central High School in 1946 and went to college at Wayne University (now Wayne State University) in Detroit, where he began to write poetry, encouraged by his mother, to whom he later dedicated the book of poems The Mercy. Levine got his A.B. in 1950 and went to work for Chevrolet and Cadillac in what he calls "stupid jobs". He married his first wife Patty Kanterman in 1951. The marriage lasted until 1953. In 1953 he went to the University of Iowa without registering, studying among others with poets Robert Lowell and John Berryman, the latter of which Levine called his "one great mentor". In 1954 he graduated with a mail-order masters degree with a thesis on John Keats' "Ode to Indolence", and married actress Frances J. Artley. He returned to the University of Iowa teaching technical writing, completing his Master of Fine Arts degree in 1957. The same year, he was awarded the Jones Fellowship in Poetry at Stanford University. In 1958 he joined the English Department at California State University in Fresno, where he taught until his retirement in 1992. He has also taught at many other universities, among them New York University as Distinguished Writer-in-Residence, at Columbia, Princeton, Brown, Tufts, and the University of California at Berkeley.
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