poem index

A Poet's Guide: 75th Anniversary Booklet

Year

2009
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A capsule history of the Academy of American Poets with photo illustrations was printed as a keepsake of the 75th Anniversary. A hyperlinked PDF is available. Download now >


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Inspired by the power of poetry...

The Academy of American Poets was conceived in 1934 when a 23-year-old woman decided to do something about what she saw as America’s neglect of its poets and poetry. From these simple beginnings 75 years ago, the Academy has grown to be one of our nation’s largest and most important literary organizations, comprising nearly 9,000 dues-paying members, with programs that inspire almost 20 million people every year.

It began with one young woman’s vision...

Born of American parents, but raised and educated in Paris where poetry has long been revered, Marie Bullock married in the early 1930s and moved to New York City. In America, she found a country seemingly indifferent to its own great literary heritage, allowing many of its most illustrious poets to struggle all their lives to support themselves. So in 1934, with the help of her husband Hugh and friends such as poets Edwin Arlington Robinson and Joseph Auslander, the first Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, Mrs. Bullock formed the Academy of American Poets and began to raise funds.

A unique organization that shaped the course of American poetry...

The mission of the Academy is concise and direct: “to support American poets at all stages of their careers and to foster the appreciation of contemporary poetry.” Marie Bullock realized that poets needed more than medals and plaques to survive the Great Depression. She tirelessly promoted poets and their work, lectured on poetry, and organized radio broadcasts. She set up a contest for an official poem of the New York World’s Fair, which was read aloud by Orson Welles. She built a membership base for her new organization and was a strong voice for American literary culture. From the beginning, the Academy flourished because its supporters loved poetry and championed its essential role in our nation’s cultural and spiritual life.

Guided by “literary persons of the highest standing”...

In 1946, the Academy established a Board of Chancellors to award annual Fellowships for distinguished poetic achievement—the first award to offer American poets substantial cash prizes. By the 1960s the Academy’s roster of Chancellors and Fellows included many of the most important American poets of the 20th century: Robert Frost, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Gwendolyn Brooks, W.H. Auden, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Hayden, and John Berryman, among many others.

A gift for innovation and inspiration...

As it expanded, the Academy of American Poets began to focus on poetry readers, as well as students first encountering poetry. The Academy set up poetry prizes at colleges and universities. It started a reading series at the Guggenheim Museum and organized national tours for poets. It established an annual award for poets publishing their first book, and for translating poetry. The Academy started the first Poets-in-the-Schools program, which the National Endowment for the Arts adopted as the model for its Artist-in-Residence program.

Spreading the word...

The Academy of American Poets has changed a great deal over the years, and it continues to innovate, creating new programs that have transformed our country’s literary conversation. In the 1990s, the reading series expanded to include numerous cities nationwide, and the Academy organized events such as an Asian American festival and a conference of poets on the environment. Regional poetry was celebrated in Alaska and Arizona. The Academy brought Chinese poets to tour the U.S. and arranged poet-exchanges with Mexico and Scandinavia. It also expanded awards, creating the $100,000 Wallace Stevens Award for lifetime achievement, and it took on the Lenore Marshall Prize for the best book of the year.

Spanning the Nation...

The Academy of American Poets was the first organization of its kind to recognize the vast power of digital communication to increase the reach of poetry in America and beyond. Inaugurated in 1995, Poets.org was the first major website dedicated to poetry on the Internet. By every standard of measurement (website visits, page views, etc.) Poets.org is the most visible expression of poetry in the world of new media. Users come from every state and many countries, from huge cities and remote residences – well over ten million a year.

Inspiring the next generation...

Working with publishers, libraries, and educators, the Academy established National Poetry Month, which is now an annual grassroots celebration that reaches millions of students, teachers, and poetry lovers. Media trend surveys show that National Poetry Month provides a yearly jump in the reading and discussion of poetry, and media coverage itself has also expanded dramatically. Popular with poets and their readers, the month-long series of activities ensures that poetry remains a vital part of our literary heritage.

Enlarging the gift for the 21st Century...

At present, the Academy has avid participants all across the country, an energetic and committed staff, and a balanced budget. It continues to reach audiences through traditional means, such as the respected journal American Poet, and also allows the new media generation to look up poems on the go with a mobile version of Poets.org. The Academy has produced a series of documentary film profiles of contemporary poets, and it preserves audio recordings of poets, that are available in a variety of digital formats. The annual Poets Forum includes readings, literary walking tours, and public discussions which explore the frontiers of poetry today. Poem in Your Pocket Day is the culminating event of the poetry year, reaching students in schools across America.

After seventy-five years...

The Academy of American Poets still reflects Marie Bullock’s goal of supporting poets and her inventiveness in finding new ways of spreading the word. Proud of its past, the Academy is committed to a future as America’s foremost poetry organization. We invite you to join us in expanding and enriching the Academy’s essential work in the years to come.