Larry Levis (1946-1996) was born in Fresno, California, on September 30, 1946. The son of a grape grower, he grew up driving a tractor, picking grapes, and pruning vines of Selma, California, a small fruit-growing town in the San Joaquin Valley. He later wrote of the farm, the vinyards, and the Mexican migrant workers that he worked alongside. He also remembered hanging out in the local billiards parlor on Selma’s East Front Street, across from the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks.
Levis earned a bachelor’s degree from Fresno State College (now California State University, Fresno) in 1968. He went on to earn a master’s degree from Syracuse University in 1970 and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1974.
Levis won the United States Award from the International Poetry Forum for his first book of poems, Wrecking Crew (1972). The American Academy of Poets named his second book, The Afterlife (1976) as Lamont Poetry Selection. His book The Dollmaker’s Ghost was a winner of the Open Competition of the National Poetry Series. Other awards included a YM-YWHA Discovery award, three fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Levis taught English at the University of Missouri from 1974-1980. From 1980 to 1992, he directed the creative writing program at the University of Utah. From 1992 until his death from a heart attack in 1996 he was a professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University.