Donald Hall was born in Hamden, Connecticut, the only child of Donald Andrew Hall, a businessman, and Lucy Wells. He was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, then earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1951 and a B.Litt, from Oxford in 1953. Hall received a honorary PhD, Lit. from Bates College in 1991.
Hall began writing even before reaching his teens, beginning with poems and short stories, and then moving on to novels and dramatic verse. Hall continued to write throughout his prep school years at Exeter, and, while still only sixteen years old, attended the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, where he made his first acquaintance with the poet Robert Frost. That same year, he published his first work. While an undergraduate at Harvard, Hall served on the editorial board of The Harvard Advocate, and got to know a number of people who, like him, were poised with significant ambitions in the literary world, amongst them John Ashbery, Robert Bly, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara, and Adrienne Rich, whom he dated briefly.During his senior year, he won the Glascock Prize that Koch had won 3 years earlier.
After leaving Harvard, Hall went to Oxford for two years, to study for the B.Litt. He was editor of the magazine Oxford Poetry, as literary editor of Isis, as editor of New Poems, and as poetry editor of The Paris Review. At the end of his first Oxford year, Hall also won the university's Newdigate Prize, awarded for his long poem, 'Exile'.
On returning to the United States, Hall went to Stanford, where he spent one year as a Creative Writing Fellow, studying under the poet-critic, Yvor Winters. Following his year at Stanford, Hall went back to Harvard, where he spent three years in the Society of Fellows. During that time, he put together his first book, Exiles and Marriages, and with Robert Pack and Louis Simpson edited an anthology which was to make a significant impression on both sides of the Atlantic, The New Poets of England and America. While teaching at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan he met poet Jane Kenyon, whom he married in 1972. Three years after they were wed, they moved to Eagle Pond Farm, his grandparents' former home in Wilmot, New Hampshire. Hall and Kenyon were profiled at their home in a 1993 PBS documentary, "A Life Together," which aired as an episode of "The Bill Moyers Journal."
In 1989, when Hall was sixty-one, it was discovered that he had colon cancer. Surgery followed, but by 1992 the cancer had metastasized to his liver. After another operation, and chemotherapy, he went into remission, though he was told that he only had a one-in-three chance of surviving the next five years. Then, early in 1994, it was discovered that Kenyon had leukemia. Her illness, her death fifteen months later, and Hall's struggle to come to terms with these things, were the subject of his 1998 book, Without.
Another book of poems dedicated to Kenyon, Painted Bed, is cited by Publishers Weekly as "more controlled, more varied and more powerful, this taut follow-up volume reexamines Hall's grief while exploring the life he has made since. The book's first poem, 'Kill the Day,' stands among the best Hall has ever written. It examines mourning in 16 long-lined stanzas, alternating catalogue with aphorism, understatement with keened lament: 'How many times will he die in his own lifetime?' "
In 2005, he published the memoir The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon -- an intimate record of their 23-year marriage.
Hall has been closely affiliated with the Bennington College's graduate writing program since 1994, giving lectures and readings annually.
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