POETS & WRITERS IS MORE than a magazine. We are a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving creative writers. We pay fees to writers giving readings and leading workshops, provide information and advice to authors, and help them connect with one another and with audiences. We also sponsor a number of awards and prizes.
The Heart of Poets & Writers
Poets & Writers was founded in 1970 with a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts to support writers who give readings and lead writing workshops throughout the state. As we celebrate the organization’s fiftieth year, we also mark five decades of the Readings & Workshops program.
“Readings & Workshops proved to be a simple and powerful way of advancing our mission,” says executive director Elliot Figman, “and it still lies at the very heart of our work.” The program connects authors with audiences, validates the importance of writers and writing, and promotes contemporary poetry and prose. “It plays an important role in encouraging literary activity and in strengthening connections among writers, organizations, and audiences—in short, building community,” says Figman.
While the Readings & Workshops program continues to support literary events in every county of New York State, over the decades Poets & Writers has been able to expand the program, first to California, in 1989, and later to eight cities outside New York and California. Today mini-grants are available for events taking place in these two states and in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, New Orleans, Seattle, Tucson, and Washington, D.C.
Last year Readings & Workshops awarded mini-grants totaling over $210,000. Seven hundred fifty-four writers received support to take part in 1,709 events—an average of almost five events per day. These events were hosted by 341 organizations and reached a total audience of more than 93,000.
The poet Jane Hirshfield has described the funding we provide as “a kind of Osmocote or greensand slow-release fertilizer for America’s literary landscape, strengthening the whole ecosystem.”
A key objective of the program is to ensure that writers are paid for their work. Although the grants we distribute are not large, we often hear from recipients that these modest sums carry with them important validation. For example, Crystal Hana Kim, author of the novel If You Leave Me, wrote, “I feel so grateful to receive this support from Poets & Writers, particularly as a debut writer and writer of color. This grant reaffirms that my time and art are valuable.”
The grants we make go directly to the writer, but the application must come from the sponsoring organization, which doesn’t have to be a nonprofit but must demonstrate the capacity to host an event and attract an audience. Generally the events we support are free and open to the public, and we give priority to those that reach culturally diverse and underserved audiences.
“The range of places where you can find literary programming is truly inspiring,” says Bonnie Rose Marcus, director of Readings & Workshops, East. “Yes, plenty of readings take place in libraries, colleges, and museums, and we’re very happy to support them—but readings also happen in senior centers, and parks, even laundromats. The same goes for writing workshops; we’ve supported workshops in partnership with groups serving domestic workers, formerly incarcerated individuals, survivors of domestic violence, at-risk teens, and people struggling with addiction. Recently we’ve sponsored bilingual workshops in several communities.”
Program staff provide technical support to both writers and sponsors of literary programming. “We help writers find host organizations and organizations find interested writers,” says Jamie FitzGerald, director of Readings & Workshops, West. “When someone is starting a new reading series, we’ll provide advice on all kinds of things, including outreach. We’re really here as a resource and welcome questions of all sorts.” FitzGerald adds that although authors cannot apply for support for their own events, they are encouraged to be proactive about approaching potential sponsors. “Approach your public library about offering a memoir writing workshop that would be a benefit to your community, for example, or reach out to a community center and suggest they host a poetry reading. You can also suggest that they apply for a mini-grant that will cover your fee. You’ll often find a receptive partner.”
To learn more about the Readings & Workshops program and review application guidelines, visit pw.org/funding.