Dana Gioia on Becoming an Information Billionaire

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Before he was California Poet Laureate or leading the National Endowment for the Arts, Dana Gioia marketed Jell-O. Possessing both a Stanford MBA and a Harvard MA, he combined his creativity and facility with numbers to climb the corporate ladder at General Foods to the second highest rung before abruptly quitting to become a poet and writer. That unique professional experience and a lifelong “hunger for beauty” have made him into what Tyler calls an “information billionaire,” or someone who can answer all of Tyler’s questions. In his new memoir, Dana describes the six people who sent him on this unlikely journey.

In this conversation, Dana and Tyler discuss his latest book and more, including how he transformed several businesses as a corporate executive, why going to business school made him a better poet, the only two obscene topics left in American poetry, why narrative is necessary for coping with life’s hardships, how Virgil influenced Catholic traditions, what Augustus understood about the cultural power of art, the reasons most libretti are so bad, the optimism of the Beach Boys, the best art museum you’ve never heard of, the Jungianism of Star Trek, his favorite Tolstoy work, depictions of Catholicism in American pop culture, what he finds fascinating about Houellebecq, why we stopped building cathedrals, how he was able to effectively lead the National Endowment for the Arts, the aesthetic differences between him and his brother Ted, his advice for young people who want to cultivate their minds, and what he wants to learn next.

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