Poetry Reading in the United States Has Risen Dramatically Proven by New Research by the National Endowment for the Arts

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Jun 07 2018

New York, NY (June 7, 2018)—According to new NEA findings, in the past five years, the number of poetry readers in the United States has almost doubled to a total of 28 million adults. This is the highest number the NEA has seen since 2002. The largest increase in poetry readership in the past five years has come from young people ages 18–24 and African American, Asian American, and other non-white readers.

“It’s been clear to us that we’ve entered American poetry’s heyday, and we’re thrilled to now have data to support what we’ve been saying for years—poetry is not just alive and well in the United States, it’s thriving,” said Jennifer Benka, Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets. “In the past five years, we’ve had significant growth in readers coming to Poets.org and subscribing to Poem-a-Day year over year.”

The findings were released today by the NEA’s Director of Research and Analysis Sunil Iyengar in a post on the government agency’s Art Works blog. The data is part of the latest Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA), a research partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Census Bureau to study Americans’ engagement with the arts.

The Academy of American Poets, the nation’s largest member-supported organization championing poets and poetry, attributes the dramatic increase in poetry readers in the past five years to several factors, including the following:

  • In challenging times, people turn to poetry to find insight and comfort. While there have always been poets who have written about current events and social issues, the Academy of American Poets sees more poets—especially young poets of color and LGBTQ poets—taking up these themes today, and more readers seeking out this work. In July 2016, in the wake of protests  after the deaths of African American men Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, the organization saw a swell of thousands of readers visiting Poets.org to read poems by Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and other African American poets. And, two days after the election on November 6, 2016, more poems from Poets.org had been shared than in any other forty-eight-hour period in the previous four years.

  • Poetry, one of our oldest art forms, is perfectly suited to our social media–driven, mobile culture. Text-based and often short, poems are portable, compact, digestible in a short amount of time, and highly shareable. And, more people are reading poems on phones that ever before. At Poets.org for example, five years ago 19% of readers were reading poems on phones. Now more than 40% are reading poems on phones.

Poem-a-Day has also helped encourage the trend of reading and sharing poems on phones. Relaunched by the Academy of American Poets in 2012, Poem-a-Day is a digital-only series distributed by email, web, social media, and syndication, featuring new poems by poets with an artist statement and audio of the poet reading the work. Its readership has grown by more than 20% each year in the past five years and today has more than 170,000 email subscribers.

  • In addition to social media becoming an important way that readers share poems, social media platforms have enabled poets themselves to champion the art form and, in some cases, to amass large numbers of followers, which has led to book deals and paid reading gigs. There is “poetry Twitter,” poets giving TED Talks, and poets sharing readings and performances on YouTube. Poets with large social media followings include Rupi Kaur with 2.7 million followers on Instagram; Clint Smith with 220,000 followers on Twitter; Sarah Kay with 67,600 followers on Twitter; Andrea Gibson with 38,600 followers on Instagram; Kaveh Akbar with 27,300 followers on Twitter; and Danez Smith with 24,300 followers on Twitter.

  • We’ve benefited from highly visible poets in mainstream culture. We’ve had two Presidential Inaugural Poets—Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco; an irrepressible and groundbreaking U.S. Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, who was our nation’s first Latinx laureate; and national/international best-sellers, Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen (Graywolf Press, 2014) and Rupi Kaur, author of Milk and Honey (Andrews McMeel, October 2015). In addition, the death of Maya Angelou on May 24, 2014, drew many, many millions of individuals’ attention to poetry.

  • New leaders took the helm at several U. S.-based poetry organizations and began working together for the first time to amplify the importance of poetry resulting in the 2016 launch of the Poetry Coalition, an alliance of more than 20 nonprofit poetry organizations for which the Academy of American Poets was awarded a $200,000 grant from the Ford Foundation last July.

We know that for all the interest and engagement we now have thanks to technology, people still crave human experiences. Readers want to meet the poets they follow on social media. Having a healthy national network of poetry organizations with expertise serving poets and readers from different geographical locations, backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and genders is essential to sustaining the growth we’re enjoying now.

Poetry Coalition members include organizations that mentor and foster community among poets of color, offer readings and workshops, hold large public festivals, make archives available, place poems in public spaces, and highlight youth poets.

Founding Poetry Coalition members are:

Academy of American Poets, New York, NY
Asian American Writers’ Workshop, New York, NY
Beyond Baroque, Los Angeles, CA
CantoMundo, New York, NY
Cave Canem Foundation, Brooklyn, NY
Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, Newark, NJ
Kundiman, New York, NY
Lambda Literary, Los Angeles, CA
Letras Latinas at Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies, Notre Dame, IN
Mass Poetry, Boston, MA
National Student Poets/Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, New York, NY
O, Miami, Miami, FL
The Poetry Center, San Francisco, CA
The Poetry Foundation, Chicago, IL
The Poetry Project, New York, NY
The Poetry Society of America, New York, NY
Poets House, New York, NY
Split This Rock, Washington, D.C.
University of Arizona Poetry Center, Tucson, AZ
Urban Word/National Youth Poets Laureate, New York, NY & Los Angeles, CA
Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University, Kent, OH
Woodland Pattern Book Center, Milwaukee, WI

Affiliate members are:

Brooklyn Poets, Brooklyn, NY
The Favorite Poem Project, Boston, MA
Get Lit, Los Angeles, CA
Just Buffalo Literary Center, Buffalo, NY
Poetry Slam, Inc.
Young Chicago Authors, Chicago, IL

About the Academy of American Poets

The Academy of American Poets is the largest membership-based nonprofit organization fostering an appreciation for contemporary poetry and supporting American poets. The organization produces Poets.org, the world’s largest publicly funded website for poets and poetry; National Poetry Month; the popular Poem-a-Day series; American Poets magazine; Teach This Poem and other award-winning resources for K–12 educators; and an annual series of poetry readings and special events. The Academy of American Poets coordinates a national Poetry Coalition working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and the important contribution poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds. ###