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ABOUT THE ACADEMY

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Staff of the Academy of American Poets

Jennifer Benka
Executive Director
Alex Dimitrov
Content Editor
Eric Engleson
Financial Director
Audrey Ference
Membership Director
Mary Gannon
Associate Director/Director of Content
Patricia Guzman
Programs Assistant
Stacy Lasner
Publicity & Outreach Coordinator
Maya Phillips
Administrative Assistant
Jeff Simpson
Multimedia Producer
Program Interns:
Richard Quigley
Kate Sugar


Jennifer Benka

Jennifer Benka, Executive Director

For much of her more than 20 years in nonprofit management, Jen has served national organizations dedicated to writing and poetry. Before joining the Academy of American Poets, Jen was the National Director of Development and Marketing for 826 National, a youth writing organization based in San Francisco, which was founded by the award-winning author Dave Eggers. At 826, Jen oversaw social media and online cause marketing campaigns, and helped lead trainings for nonprofit leaders around the world interested in developing arts and literacy programs. She also previously served, for nearly a decade, as the Managing Director of Poets & Writers in New York City, where she was the deputy administrative officer, and chief fundraising and marketing officer. At Poets & Writers, Jen helped expand a national grantmaking program supporting poetry readings and workshops, launch a new national prize for poets, and redesign the organization's popular website for writers. She has served on the Boards of the local literary organizations Small Press Traffic in San Francisco and Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee; on arts and literature panels for the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Milwaukee County, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts; and as a judge for numerous poetry contests and prizes, including the Lambda Literary Awards. As an advocate for American poets and poetry, Jen also speaks frequently on panels and to media, and has been interviewed by publications and programs including The New York Times and PBS Online.

Jen is also the author of the poetry collections Pinko (Hanging Loose Press) and A Box of Longing With Fifty Drawers (Soft Skull Press); the artist book Preamble, a collaboration with artist Mark Wagner (Booklyn); and co-author, with Carol Mirakove, of the chapbook 1,138 (Belladonna). Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous print and online publications, including Crossing State Lines: An American Renga (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Having a commitment to bringing poetry into the public sphere, she has organized several large-scale poetry events in New York City, including a 24-hour marathon reading of the collected poems of Emily Dickinson, the inaugural event at The Bowery Poetry Club. And, she maintains a blog that explores poetry and photography. Jen holds a BA degree in Journalism from Marquette University and an MFA degree in poetry from The New School.


Alex Dimitrov Alex Dimitrov, Content Editor
Alex Dimitrov's first book of poems, Begging For It, was published by Four Way Books. He is the founder of Wilde Boys, a queer poetry salon in New York City. His poems have appeared in the American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, Boston Review, Yale Review, and Tin House. He frequently writes for Poets & Writers magazine.

Eric Engleson

Eric Engleson, Financial Director
Eric Engleson has been the financial manager at the Academy since 1993. Prior to joining the Academy, Eric worked as a controller for Berger, Stone & Partners Advertising. He received his MBA in finance (2002) and BBA in accounting (1993) from Baruch College (CUNY).


Audrey Ference

Audrey Ference, Membership Director
Audrey Ference was raised, though not born, in San Antonio, Texas. Before joining the Academy, she worked in development at the Morgan Library and the Regional Plan Association. She has a BA degree in English Literature from Haverford College, and her essays and criticism have appeared in various publications.


Mary Gannon

Mary Gannon, Associate Director/Director of Content
Mary Gannon has worked in the literary nonprofit field for over fifteen years. Most recently she was Editorial Director of Poets & Writers, Inc., where she oversaw the production of pw.org and the publication of Poets & Writers Magazine, for which she served as Editor from 2004 to 2009. Under her leadership the magazine was awarded the Eddie Award for Magazine Editorial Excellence and was nominated for an Independent Press Award for arts coverage. As a journalist, Mary has profiled a diverse range of American writers for Poets & Writers Magazine, including poets Anne Carson, Norman Dubie, Major Jackson, and Sarah Manguso. Her reviews of poetry collections have been published in the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, Poetry International, and Chelsea Magazine. She has served as judge for numerous poetry prizes given by organizations such as the Colorado Council for the Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the Bronx Council for the Arts. She was a founding member of the Brooklyn Literary Council, which launched and continues to organize the Brooklyn Book Festival, and she presently serves on its poetry programming committee. Mary is also a poet and has published work in numerous literary magazines, including the Antioch Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, the Paris Review, Passages North, Washington Square, and SHADE, among others. She received her MFA degree in poetry from Arizona State University in Tempe, where she was awarded a Swarthout Prize in Writing, and a BA degree in English from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.


Patricia Guzman

Patricia Guzman, Programs Assistant
Patricia Guzman was born and raised in California. She has been published in Westwind Literary Journal as well as The Best American Poetry Blog and was a recipient of the May Merrill Miller Award. She holds an MFA degree in poetry from The New School, and a BA degree in English Creative Writing from the University of California Los Angeles.


Stacy Lasner

Stacy Lasner, Publicity & Outreach Coordinator
Stacy Lasner is a born-and-bred New Yorker. Before joining the Academy, Stacy was a Publicist at Simon & Schuster, representing books and authors in a variety of genres. She received her BS in Communication at Boston University where she specialized in Public Relations.


Maya Phillips, Administrative Assistant
Maya Phillips was born and raised in New York City. She has an extensive editorial background, having worked for a number of newspapers and magazines based in both New York City and Boston. A recipient of an Academy of American Poets’ College Poetry Prize, Maya received her BFA in Writing, Literature and Publishing with a concentration in poetry from Emerson College in Boston, where she completed a creative thesis in poetry and an academic thesis on gender roles and female autonomy in classical Greek tragedy. A former curator of the Emerson Poetry Project, Maya represented Emerson College at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational as a member of the college’s 2010 and 2011 slam teams. She also represented the Cantab Lounge at the National Poetry Slam in Cambridge and Boston as a member of the 2011 Cantab slam team.


Jeff Simpson, Multimedia Producer
Jeff Simpson was born and raised in southwest Oklahoma. He is the author of Vertical Hold (Steel Toe Books, 2011), a finalist for The National Poetry Series. His poems have appeared in Forklift, Ohio; Prairie Schooner; Copper Nickel; Poet Lore, Harpur Palate, and others. He holds an MFA degree in poetry from Oklahoma State University and occasionally teaches creative writing and literature courses. He is also the founding editor of The Fiddleback, an online journal of literature and art.


Richard Quigley Richard Quigley, Program Intern
Richard Quigley is a Connecticut native. He received a BA in Creative Writing from Purchase College, SUNY. His poems have been appeared in various print and online publications, including The Westchester Review, Yes, Poetry, and Black-Listed Magazine. He is currently an MFA candidate in Poetry at Columbia University.

Kate Sugar Kate Sugar, Program Intern
Kate Sugar was born and raised in San Diego, California. She received her BA in English with a minor in Women's and Gender Studies at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. She is currently pursuing an MFA at Columbia University.
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