Donald Hall: Biography, Books & Poems

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Donald Hall is well-known for his work as an American poet, but did you know that he has also written many books, including children's literature? In this lesson, you will learn about the biography, books, and poems of Donald Hall.


Donald Hall was born on September 20, 1928 in the town of New Haven, Connecticut. His interest in writing and poetry began at a very young age. After reading poems and short stories by Edgar Allan Poe at just 12 years old, he knew that he wanted to write. Many of his experiences as a child influenced his writing. His dad had a bad temper, but his mom was much calmer. Growing up in a household with these two different personalities helped mold his passions and his perspective as a writer. By the age of 16, he had already published his first poem and met the famous poet Robert Frost. Most 16-year-olds today are worried about getting their driver's license, not publishing poetry!

Hall was quite the smarty-pants. He graduated from Harvard University, and the very prestigious Oxford University in England. He earned a degree in literature from both schools. While studying at Oxford, Hall won the Newdigate Prize for his poem 'Exile'. This was a big deal for two reasons:

  • The Newdigate Prize was only given to one student each year.
  • Very few Americans had ever won the award.

After graduating from Oxford University in 1953, Donald Hall spent several years as a junior fellow at Harvard before working as a professor at the University of Michigan until 1975. That year, Hall stopped teaching and moved back to the East Coast to live on his family's farm in New Hampshire with his wife, poet Jane Kenyon.

In 2006, Hall became the 14th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a position working with the Library of Congress as the country's foremost poetry expert. Talk about a big deal! As Poet Laureate, Hall was responsible for raising awareness and readership of poetry in America. He served as the Poet Laureate for just one year. Hall still lives in New Hampshire and continues to be recognized for his amazing contributions to American literature.

Donald Hall
Donald Hall


Over the course of his career, Donald Hall published 15 books of poetry, beginning in 1955 with Exiles and Marriages. His first collection was very formal and very academic. His second collection of poetry, The Dark Horses (1958), was less formal and showed Donald Hall's ability to write with emotion. Two of Hall's collections, Kicking the Leaves and The One Day: A Poem in Three Parts, reflect life on his New Hampshire farm. Donald Hall loved living there and had many happy childhood memories about his grandparents who had lived there. In the late 1990s, Hall's wife Jane was sick with cancer. In 1998 and 2002 he published two books of poetry (Without and The Painted Bed) that showed how cancer had affected his wife and the tremendous amount of pain he felt as she died. In 2006, Donald Hall published White Apples and the Taste of Stone, which included poems from his 6 decades of writing. How cool would it be to publish a book that includes the greatest accomplishments of your life?

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