There was only a small window of time to take the photograph: It was August 2011, and Philip Levine was about to be named the 18th Poet Laureate of the United States. A Bee photographer scurried over to his Van Ness Avenue home in order to make the next day's paper.
The poet didn't dress up for the occasion: He opened the door wearing a plain white T-shirt.
Over a lifetime, Levine didn't fancy it up.
He wrote poetry that celebrated working people, and his words both resonated with and uplifted them. In a career that saw him shoot to international fame, he steadfastly maintained that the success of his Fresno State students -- many of whom he knew had worked as hard as him -- was one of his biggest rewards.
The Pulitzer-Prize winner died in Fresno on Saturday, Feb. 14, Fresno State officials confirmed. The cause was pancreatic and liver cancer.
Levine wasn't born in Fresno, but the Detroit native -- whose poetry smelled of the sweat of hard work, the fecundity of the earth and the grease of the factory -- let the city get into his nostrils. And his heart.
When the poet came to Fresno State in 1958, the university didn't even have a creative writing department. Even when he built it into a nationally recognized program that pumped out a steady stream of illustrious graduates, including Larry Levis, Gary Soto, Roberta Spear, Sherley Williams, Ernesto Trejo, Luis Omar Salinas and Lawson Inada.
In a 2011 interview prior to being named the U.S. poet laureate, he said the single greatest reward was the writing of the stuff itself: the poetry.
"And the second biggest one had to do with my students, mainly here at Fresno State," he said. "I had some amazing students here who went on to wonderful careers as poets. Many became very good friends of mine."
While he would go on to teach part-time at some of the most prestigious universities in the land, including New York University, Columbia University, Princeton University and the University of California at Berkeley, Levine always returned to Fresno, where he split time between a home here and in Brooklyn.
The important thing for the Fresno poetry scene: He would always come back, said C.G. Hanzlicek, a close friend and colleague who for 15 years headed the Fresno Poets' Association.
"He found peace in his house on Van Ness," said Hanzlicek said Sunday, acting as spokesman for the Levine family. "He was very superstitious about poetry. There were fountain pens that had poems in them, and there were fountain poems that didn't. He gave those away."
Levine wrote more than 21 collections of poetry, and in 1995 received the Pulitzer Prize for "The Simple Truth." He won the National Book Award in 1991 for "What Work Is" and in 1980 for "Ashes: Poems New and Old."
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington called Levine one of America's great narrative poets when he was given the poet laureate honor.
"His plainspoken lyricism has, for half a century, championed the art of telling 'The Simple Truth' -- about working in a Detroit auto factory, as he has, and about the hard work we do to make sense of our lives."
Critics have called him "a large, ironic Whitman of the industrial heartland" for his emphasis in his poems on the lives of factory workers trapped by poverty and the drudgery of the assembly line. Joyce Carol Oates once called him "a visionary of our dense, troubled, mysterious time."
In 2011, he was named poet laureate of the United States (officially the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry), a title that came with few official duties but much distinction. There was one more major poetry honor to come: the Wallace Stevens Award in 2013, which is given annually to recognize "outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry."
Hanzlicek said Sunday that he couldn't think of anyone who enjoyed life more than Levine. "He threw himself into everything with a passion," he said. "He just had this gusto for life that you don't often encounter. If I could say it of anyone, I would say it of him: It was a life well lived."