Donald Hall was born on September 20, 1928, and grew up in Hamden, Connecticut. He began writing as an adolescent and attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference at the age of sixteen—the same year he had his first work published. Hall earned a BA from Harvard University in 1951 and a bachelor of letters degree from the University of Oxford in 1953. The next year he received a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, followed by a fellowship from Harvard University.
In 1955, Hall published his first poetry collection, Exiles and Marriages (Viking Press), which was the Academy of American Poet’s Lamont Poetry Selection for 1956. His other books include The Selected Poems of Donald Hall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015); The Painted Bed (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002); and Without: Poems (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998), which was published on the third anniversary of his wife and fellow poet Jane Kenyon’s death from leukemia. The collection received the 1999 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award. Other notable collections include The One Day (Mariner Books, 1988), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and a Pulitzer Prize nomination, and The Happy Man (Secker & Warburg, 1986), which won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize.
Of Hall’s work, Billy Collins writes,
Hall has long been placed in the Frostian tradition of the plainspoken rural poet. His reliance on simple, concrete diction and the no-nonsense sequence of the declarative sentence gives his poems steadiness and imbues them with a tone of sincere authority. It is a kind of simplicity that succeeds in engaging the reader in the first few lines.
Besides poetry, Donald Hall wrote numerous books of prose, including works about baseball, the sculptor Henry Moore, and the poet Marianne Moore. He also wrote children’s books, including Ox-Cart Man (Viking Press, 1979), which won the Caldecott Medal; short stories, including Willow Temple: New and Selected Stories (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003); and plays. He published several autobiographical works, such as The Best Day The Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005) and Life Work (Beacon Press, 1993), which won the New England Book Award for nonfiction.
Hall edited more than two dozen textbooks and anthologies, including The Oxford Book of Children’s Verse in America (Oxford University Press, 1985) and Contemporary American Poetry (Penguin Books, 1962). He served as poetry editor of The Paris Review from 1953 to 1962 and as a member of editorial board for poetry at Wesleyan University Press from 1958 to 1964. He taught at the University of Michigan from 1957 to 1975.
Hall’s honors include two Guggenheim fellowships, the Poetry Society of America’s Robert Frost Medal, a Lifetime Achievement award from the New Hampshire Writers Project, and the Ruth Lilly Prize. Hall also served as poet laureate of New Hampshire from 1984 to 1989. In December 1993, he and Jane Kenyon were the subject of an Emmy Award-winning Bill Moyers documentary A Life Together. In June 2006, Hall was appointed the Library of Congress’s fourteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. In 2010, he received a National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama.
Donald Hall died on June 23, 2018, in Wilmot, New Hampshire.