Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
Carnegie Mellon University professor Jim Daniels has published poetry and short fiction.
Awards: Public Poetry Project
Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1956, Jim Daniels worked in factories before graduating from Alma College in 1978. The factories proved a setting for many of his poems, which describe the hardships factory workers face. He has won several awards for his poems. At the time of this writing, he resides with his family in Pittsburgh where he teaches at Carnegie Mellon University.
James (Jim) Daniels was born in 1956 in Detroit, Michigan. Like his father and many of his friends, Daniels worked for the Ford Motor Company and other jobs before college. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Alma College in 1978 and a master’s degree from Bowling Green State University in 1980.
Daniels used Detroit and working in the factory as a backdrop for his first three books: Places/Everyone (1985), Punching Out (1990), and M-80 (1993). In his writing, he addresses the issues of blue collar work, adolescence, and determining the role of a poet.
His fourth book, Blessing the House (1997), breaks away from the Detroit setting and features his current residence in Pittsburgh. “Dear…” is a poem in the book where an unfinished letter from 1999 is found, causing a reflection upon the adolescence of that year:
In 1999 I traded majors
like used cars, testing them out and
then abandoning them by the road.
This poem by Daniels shows the language that Tim Ross of Artful Dodge describes as “Stylistically, throughout his career he has always found a way to combine a straightforward, conversational tone with a sharp sense of rhythm and tightly compressed language.” This tone can also be seen in his poem “Factory Cool,” published in Punching Out (1990). In the poem, an inexperienced factory worker named Digger tries to act like a more experienced worker who always manages to keep his uniform clean:
One day I worked his machine—
tried to stay in his footsteps
got twisted and fell.
No one noticed. I pulled myself up—
what’s his payoff?—blew my nose
into a greasy sleeve.
Digger is a recurring character in Daniels’ work who is based, in part, on his father, neighborhood men, and other plant workers. Daniels explains in an interview with Ross that “usually there is a seed of something that is autobiographical in every single poem, but I take that seed and run with it and after a while I forget what really happened and what was made up.” He continued to explain that he does not look to tell the truth in his poems, but just tries to write a good poem.
Daniels received the Blue Lynx Poetry Prize in 2007 for Revolt of the Crash-Test Dummies (2007). He wrote and produced his third screenplay, “Mr. Pleasant,” an independent film, in 2010. The film follows a college student, from a working-class family in Detroit, who believes that escaping his hometown for the weekend is enough to provide opportunities. His poem “Factory Love” is displayed on the roof of Alexander Grabau’s white Mitsubishi Evolution II CE9A race car.
At Carnegie Mellon, where Daniels has taught since 1981 as the Thomas Stockham Baker Professor of English, he received the Ryan Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Elliott Dunlap Smith Award for Teaching and Educational Service. He has also received a Faculty Service Award from the Carnegie Mellon Alumni Association – awarded for extraordinary commitment to the support and education of Carnegie Mellon alumni around the world.
In 2006, Daniels won the Tillie Olsen Prize from the Working-Class Studies Association in 2006 for Street, a book of poems that accompanies photographs by Charlee Brodsky. Other awards include two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, two from Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the Brittingham Prize for Poetry.
Daniels has also contributed various types of work to anthologies. He has edited or co-edited four anthologies, including Letters to America: Contemporary American Poetry on Race (1995) and American Poetry: The Next Generation (2000). His poems have been featured on Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac, in Billy Collins' Poetry 180 anthologies, in Ted Kooser's American Life in Poetry series, and in the Pushcart Prize and Best American Poetry anthologies.