At the age of 25, bearing his master’s degree from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Robert Dana arrived at Cornell in 1954 as its youngest tenure-track faculty member. He immediately set himself to becoming the equivalent of Cornell’s Center for the Literary Arts, a job he worked at for 40 years before retiring as poet-in-residence in 1994.
In his first years at Cornell, Dana founded the Hillside Press in the basement of South Hall, where he and students set type by hand and printed small pamphlets, or “chapbooks,” by various writers. In 1964 he revived the oldest U.S. literary journal,The North American Review, and edited it at Cornell until it was sold in 1968 to the University of Northern Iowa, where it continues to thrive. He founded Open Field, the student literary journal that succeeded The Husk.
At Cornell, his poetry appeared in leading publications, including The New Yorker, Poetry, and The Paris Review. Major publishers (Norton and Harper & Row) issued books of his poetry, and one of them, Starting Out for the Difficult World, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. He received many awards, including the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award in 1989, honoring “an insufficiently recognized mature poet.”
He attracted internationally acclaimed writers and editors to the college, including British poet Sir Stephen Spender, Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow, Poet Laureate Mona Van Duyn, and Pulitzer Prize winner John Cheever.
During his Cornell years and later, he was visiting distinguished poet at several universities, including ones in Stockholm and Beijing.
He continued his literary career to the last day of his life. In all, he published 10 books of poetry, edited or wrote three books of prose, and turned out eight limited editions of poetry. He served as Poet Laureate of Iowa for 2004-2008. He died in 2010.