Still Here for You
In late March the Poets & Writers Board of Directors held its first-ever remote meeting. We had canceled our annual fundraiser, scheduled for March 16, and closed our office but continued all of our programs for writers, even as our staff worked remotely. The scope of the pandemic and its economic devastation were just beginning to become clear, but we knew writers would be hit hard. Already we had heard from many authors whose speaking engagements, teaching gigs, and freelance assignments had been canceled. We knew that book tours were being called off and publication dates postponed. At the March meeting executive director Elliot Figman asked the board to allocate $50,000 from the organization’s reserves to establish the Poets & Writers COVID-19 Relief Fund, in order to provide direct financial assistance to writers in dire need. The board readily agreed.
That initial commitment of $50,000 was quickly matched, then exceeded, with generous contributions from individuals, including lead gifts from Michael Pietsch, CEO of Hachette Book Group and a Poets & Writers board member, and Zibby Owens, author and host of the podcast Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books. Other authors, including Stacy Schiff and Amor Towles, also made donations. An ad hoc committee was formed—comprising individuals who serve on either our board or our 50th Anniversary Writers Committee, a group of fifty acclaimed authors, chaired by Sue Monk Kidd, who are helping us celebrate our milestone—to assist with establishing guidelines for applicants and then evaluating the applications. By the end of April we had distributed $1,000 grants to 107 writers in twenty-five states. Thanks to generous pledges from Hachette Book Group and Simon & Schuster, as of this writing we are planning for a second round of funding.
We were pleased to be able to provide some modest help to a number of writers. The response from the writing community confirmed the importance of doing so.
“This is fantastic news and a much-needed boost in morale at a time when everything seems to be going wrong,” an author from Topanga, California, wrote. “I lost my job three weeks ago, and this grant is a lifeline thrown at the perfect moment.”
A writer from Pahoa, Hawai’i, commented, “Aloha! Mahalo for supporting an Asian American writer in a time of rampant yellow peril; it means the world to me and my family.” And a poet from Rockville, Maryland, wrote to say that ours was the first financial assistance he had received. “It’s not just the generosity of the money—it is that, of course—but also much more,” he wrote. “I published my first poem when I was in high school and since then have pretty much given my life to poetry and visual poetry, and so to feel the support of Poets & Writers absolutely first thing during this critical time is deeply significant.”
“It’s incredibly moving to know that Poets & Writers cares about those of us who’ve long provided our writing and teaching services to our communities at little cost,” wrote an author from upstate New York. And writers from hard-hit New York City added their thanks. From the Bronx: “As a writer who is low income, disabled, marginalized, and transgender, the funds will allow me to navigate the pandemic storm and alleviate a few burdens.” From Queens: “In these moments of challenges and uncertainty, your support is a cause of needed relief. A gentle light in the middle of the great loneliness and anguish that affects the world right now and so intensely the city of New York.”
Founded in 1970, Poets & Writers is marking fifty years of service to writers this year. We never expected that service to take the forms it is now taking, but we are steadfast in our vision of empowering writers and strengthening literary communities. In addition to the Poets & Writers COVID-19 Relief Fund, we are doing what we can to keep writers informed, inspired, and connected. At pw.org, we have created an extensive list of COVID-19 resources for writers that we update regularly. We have modified the guidelines for our mini-grants to provide support for online literary events, hosted virtual meetings, and altered our Literary Events Calendar to help writers get the word out about virtual events. Please take advantage of these resources by visiting pw.org and come back often, as we will continue to offer new content and tools to meet writers’ changing needs. Finally, please consider making a donation at pw.org/friends. It is contributions from writers like you that make all this possible.