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.
Still Celebrating (in Absentia)
From left: Oprah Winfrey, Michael Chabon, and Amanda Gorman. (Winfrey: Harpo, Inc./Ruven Afanador; Gorman: Stephanie Mitchell)
The Poets & Writers fiftieth-anniversary gala, which had been scheduled to take place on March 16 in New York City, was canceled as concerns about the coronavirus (COVID-19) grew.
The gala is vital to Poets & Writers’ annual fund-raising and generates support for all of our programs. This year’s jubilee celebration, with Michael Pietsch, CEO of Hachette Book Group, at the helm as the event chair, was on track to be Poets & Writers’ most successful benefit ever.
In addition to celebrating a half century of serving writers, the event was to have recognized three honorees: Michael Chabon and Amanda Gorman, recipients of this year’s Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Awards, and Oprah Winfrey, recipient of the Leadership Award.
The Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award recognizes authors who have given generously to other writers or to the broader literary community. Michael Chabon is the acclaimed author of a number of beloved novels, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Random House, 2000) and the Hugo Award–winning The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (HarperCollins, 2007). Long a champion of the writing community, he served as chairman of the board of the MacDowell Colony from 2010 to 2020. Chabon sets a high bar for literary citizenship: He donated the proceeds of his award-winning essay collection Manhood for Amateurs (Harper, 2009) to 826 National, the nonprofit dedicated to helping elementary and high school students develop their writing skills, and more recently he coedited with Ayelet Waldman the anthology Fight of the Century: Writers Reflect on 100 Years of Landmark ACLU Cases (Avid Reader Press, 2020), with proceeds to be donated to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Amanda Gorman, the youngest-ever recipient of the Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award, is a writer, a performance poet, a feminist, an activist, and a member of Harvard University’s class of 2020. She served as the inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate; she writes for the New York Times student newsletter the Edit; and she recently signed a two-book deal with Viking, which prevailed as the winner in an eight-way bidding war. Even as Gorman completes her undergraduate degree in sociology and performs her poetry widely—as well as, one supposes, works to meet her deadline with Viking—she has found time to be exceptionally generous to the writing community. When she was sixteen, she founded One Pen One Page to encourage young people to share their voices and to provide free creative writing programming for underserved youth in her hometown of Los Angeles. Currently she serves as the youngest member of the board of directors of 826 National. Her marvelous combination of generosity and ambition make her a standard-bearer for a new generation of poets and writers.
Finally, Oprah Winfrey was to receive the Poets & Writers Leadership Award, which honors an individual who has transformed and enlivened the field. It is clear to any fan of Oprah that books are central to her life, and they are often central to the ways in which she engages the public. She has helped to keep books and writers at the center of our cultural discourse, especially through Oprah’s Book Club. Perhaps more than any other individual in our time, Oprah has elevated the position of books, shone a light on writers and the power of the stories they tell, and helped countless readers discover great books.
While saddened that we could not celebrate these esteemed individuals in person, Poets & Writers salutes Chabon, Gorman, and Winfrey for their invaluable contributions to the literary community.