An Update to Our Community
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 lens of racial equity and diversity 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 made up 66 percent of the subjects of articles in this 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 definition of democracy, the meaning of our nationhood, and how our relationships to one another must change. Everywhere you look—whether in publishing, philanthropy, elections, health care, 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. We invite you to read more at pw.org/about-us/commitment_to_antiracism, where we will provide periodic updates on our progress.