An Update to Our Community
December 15, 2021
In the summer of 2020 the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police sparked global movements for justice, led by Black people. This reckoning with the brutal reality of racism in the United States prompted Poets & Writers to make a public statement of solidarity and commitment to becoming an antiracist organization.
People of color within our community, including Board and staff members, immediately challenged us to examine where we have fallen short and caused harm by perpetuating racism and inequity. Rising to this painfully overdue challenge to embody our stated values has been a major focus during the past year and a half.
Some initial steps—from increasing the salary for entry level positions to making Juneteenth a paid holiday—were implemented immediately. We then hired an outside expert to conduct an organizational assessment, lead training for the Board of Directors, and engage the full board and staff in community conversations about antiracism. Out of these conversations an Antiracism Action Plan emerged, with objectives that touch on staff training, human resources processes, and governance.
To carry out our mission and serve creative writers from all backgrounds, the organization must be informed by diverse perspectives, and the writers we serve must see themselves reflected in our leadership. We took action to further diversity across the organization. Our board and staff are now the most diverse in our history: more than half of staff members and 35 percent of board members identify as BIPOC. Even more important, the senior staff team is 40 percent BIPOC-identified. The board has also adopted a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Policy and is developing means of regularly assessing and strengthening the board’s culture. And we are not done.
Fulfilling our mission also requires reexamining our programs and publications. The editorial team has focused a racial equity and diversity lens on all editorial decisions, making these considerations a routine part of the planning, assigning, editing, and postmortem processes. In addition, we are intentionally expanding the network of BIPOC journalists, editors, photographers, and illustrators we work with. An internal analysis shows that over the past three years, people of color have comprised 66 percent of the subjects of articles in Poets & Writers Magazine and 47 percent of the contributors. But taking a longer view over the past eleven years, 43 percent of the subjects of articles and just 25 percent of contributors have been people of color. We’ve made important progress, but we must be vigilant in addressing our legacy of exclusion and ensuring equity in our pages.
Looking at our Readings & Workshops program, which provides cash grants to writers, we found that over the past seven years about half of our grants have gone to people of color. But to fully understand our impact, we need better data collection and a more robust and intentional consideration of how our grantmaking can promote equity. We took a step in that direction in the fall of 2020, when we created a special grant opportunity to support online programming curated and developed by BIPOC writers in Detroit, Houston, and New Orleans. More recently, with support from Reese’s Book Club’s The Readership, we awarded career advancement grants to a dozen BIPOC women writers. As we develop new programing in the months ahead, contributing to greater equity and access for BIPOC writers will be a primary consideration.
The work of actively dismantling white supremacy culture and contributing to the creation of a more equitable society is the most urgent and transformative work in our organization—and should be paramount in the nonprofit literary field, the publishing industry, and our culture at large.
It is urgent because justice is always urgent. And because, right now, we so need what writers offer. As we struggle to recover from a devastating pandemic, the United States confronts profound questions about our history, the meaning of democracy, the meaning of our nationhood, and how our relationships to one another must change. Everywhere you look—whether at publishing, philanthropy, elections, healthcare, education, the economy, the environment—change must come. The stories writers tell will help us navigate these tremendous, daunting, and necessary changes. Writers deepen our capacity for empathy, challenge our assumptions, and expand our imagination: all prerequisites to change. To meet the moment, an antiracist and truly inclusive writing community is essential.
Poets & Writers will strive to ensure that, in every aspect of our work, we contribute to building, sustaining, and celebrating that community.
Toward Becoming an Antiracist Organization: An Update to Our Community
October 13, 2020
Poets & Writers is committed to building an organizational culture that centers diversity, equity, and inclusion. This update for our community highlights steps we have taken in recent weeks, as well as work we are committed to undertaking in the months ahead. We hope to gain insight as we progress and will provide further updates from time to time.
Internal Practices and Culture
- We will engage an outside firm to review P&W’s policies, practices, and culture to identify ways we can better embody our stated values with respect to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are in the process of selecting a firm and the assessment will begin as soon as possible.
Staff, Organizational Culture
- Salary Structure. Recognizing that low pay typical of the nonprofit arts sector, especially in entry level positions, is an obstacle to increased diversity in the sector, the salary for full-time entry level positions has been increased to $40,000.
- Training. Supervisors are now required to complete online training modules focused on managing bias and fostering an inclusive workplace culture. We expect to identify additional training opportunities for staff going forward.
- Juneteenth. Beginning in 2021, Juneteenth (June 19) will be a paid holiday for all employees and P&W’s offices will be closed.
The Board of Directors
- Diversity. The Governance Committee has made it a priority to identify and recruit potential candidates of color, with the expectation of adding several new Board members in early 2021 and several more the following year. Our goal is to have a Board that more closely reflects the diversity of the writers we serve.
- Training. Board members will participate in a series of trainings to ensure that all members understand and are able to reflect P&W’s values and our stated intention to become an antiracist organization.
- Oversight. The Board has made DEI progress a priority that will be highlighted in its annual review of the executive director’s performance.
Our editorial team is responsible for the content of Poets & Writers Magazine and pw.org.
- Editorial content. The editorial team will consider main areas and subjects of editorial coverage through the lens of racial equity and diversity, and center the experiences and perspectives of BIPOC writers in the pages of the magazine and website.
- Analysis. We are conducting an internal analysis of editorial coverage and contributors, looking back at ten years of Poets & Writers Magazine and several years of online exclusives and web series. This analysis, which we aim to complete and share with our readers early next year, will inform decision making about further steps needed to ensure that our pages are inclusive of the breadth of contemporary writers.
- Contributors. We will expand our network of BIPOC journalists, editors, photographers, and illustrators to ensure that the freelance writers and professionals we work with reflect the diversity of our coverage; we will evaluate our progress on an ongoing basis.
Readings & Workshops/United States of Writing
Our Readings & Workshops team is responsible for regranting and community-based programming in New York, California, and eight cities outside those states.
- New Grant Opportunity. Designated a pool of funds to provide grants of up to $750 for projects initiated by BIPOC writers in Detroit, Houston, and New Orleans. Guidelines were finalized and the application portal opened on September 1; grantees to be announced in mid-October.
- Review of Past Funding. To determine if our grantmaking is equitable, we are conducting a review of writers who have received mini-grants through our Readings & Workshops program in the past. We aim to complete this review by early 2021.
- Improved Data Collection. The staff is reviewing how we collect demographic information about grantees in order to better document the diversity of writers we are reaching (or failing to reach) through this program.
Poets & Writers Stands in Solidarity With the Black Community
June 5, 2020
Poets & Writers stands in solidarity with the Black community in this time of pain and outrage, and with people of goodwill the world over calling for an end to systemic racism.
The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade are only the latest in an excruciating history of state-sanctioned violence against Black people. These killings come during a pandemic that disproportionately afflicts communities of color. That members of these same communities are disproportionately risking their lives as essential workers only adds to the outrage.
At Poets & Writers, we are reflecting on how to respond to these injustices. This begins with the acknowledgement that, although we have a diverse staff, most of our leaders and Board members are white. We must also recognize that we have not been publicly vocal in our opposition to racism in the past and that has been a failure on our part. Our silence has compromised our mission.
We serve writers because they help us understand ourselves and our times, deepen our capacity for empathy, and imagine a better future. To accomplish our mission, we must heighten our understanding of the unique struggles that Black writers face in the publishing industry and literary world due to racism and implicit bias.
Poets & Writers is committed to becoming an antiracist organization that models the principles of equity and inclusion. In the coming weeks and months, we will devote time and resources to discerning how we have been complicit in supporting unjust practices, how we can contribute to dismantling systemic racism, and how we can more effectively support Black writers as well as other writers of color.
As we undertake this work, we think especially of our Black colleagues on the staff and Board, as well as the Black writers among those we serve—and pledge to do better.
President of the Board of Directors