Poets & Writers Celebrates Forty Years

For the past forty years, Poets & Writers has served the nation's creative writers. Here are some of the highlights of our programs and events throughout the years.
In 1970, Galen Williams, then director of New York City’s 92nd Street Y Poetry Center, launched Poets & Writers with a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts. Her goal was to promote literature and the careers of poets and fiction writers by providing them with fees for giving readings and teaching workshops.

In 1973, Poets & Writers began publishing Coda, the precursor to Poets & Writers Magazine. The February/March 1979 issue, pictured here, explored the viability of indie bookstores, a topic Poets & Writers Magazine continues to follow today.

By 1978, when Poets & Writers held its first benefit party, the organization had won the support of writers such as E. L. Doctorow and Erica Jong, pictured here with Galen Williams. As reported in Publishers Weekly, the event raised $20,000 toward a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Arts—the first ever given to a literary organization.

James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg, and Erica Jong were among the writers who attended the first benefit held at the Kitchen in New York City in 1978.

William Styron and Lauren Bacall cut the tenth anniversary cake at Roseland in New York City in 1980. Funds raised at this event supported Poets & Writers’ growing programs and services.
Poets & Writers celebrated its fifteenth anniversary at the Big Apple Circus in 1985 with a performance by the All Amateur Literary Circus Troupe: (left to right) Liz Smith, Erica Jong, Norman Mailer, Gail Sheehy, Ken Follett, and Galen Williams.
Norman Mailer helped to celebrate Poets & Writers' fifteenth anniversary at the Big Apple Circus in 1985.
In 1987, Coda was reconceived as Poets & Writers Magazine, quickly becoming an indispensible source of information for writers. The January/February 1987 inaugural issue featured literary lion James Jones with his daughter, novelist Kaylie Jones.
The Readings/Workshops (R/W) program has been integral to P&W’s mission since the beginning. In 1970, it provided support for sixteen literary events in New York City. It now supports more than two thousand literary events across the country, distributing over $200,000 in writers’ fees each year. Among the esteemed writers who have participated is poet Nikki Giovanni, pictured at a 2001 R/W event at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York.
In 1989, the Readings/Workshops program expanded to California, and later to the Midwest. Amiri Baraka is pictured signing books at Lit Fest on the Lawn in Detroit in 2002, an event supported by P&W.
Seniors are among the key audiences served by the Readings/Workshops program. From 2003 to 2005 P&W sponsored a writing workshop for Holocaust survivors led by poet Veronica Golos (bottom center) at the Holocaust Memorial & Education Center of Nassau County, New York. Also pictured is Bonnie Rose Marcus (second from right), director of the R/W (East) program.
In 1993, P&W opened an office in California. It is currently staffed by Jamie Asaye FitzGerald and Cheryl Klein, pictured at the Asian Pacific American Book Festival in 2007. The California office administers R/W (West), which supports writers in California, Houston, Seattle, and Tucson and convenes regional meetings for writers and literary presenters.
Each year, the Readings/Workshops program supports more than seven hundred literary events in forty-seven California counties. Pictured is poet Antonieta Villamil leading a bilingual workshop at the Jefferson Community Adult School in Los Angeles in 2007.
Another event supported by R/W was the Lambda Literary Foundation's first annual Writers Retreat, held at the American Jewish University in Bel Air, California, in 2007. Novelist Dorothy Allison is pictured with fiction writing students at the retreat. (Allison ran P&W’s Information Center in the late 1970s.)
The Writers for Writers Award was established by P&W in 1996 to recognize authors who have given generously to other writers or to the broader literary community. Pictured are writer and P&W chairman of the board Susan Isaacs presenting poet Rita Dove with the 1997 Writers for Writers Award.
Elliot Figman, P&W executive director, with the 1998 Writers for Writers Award honorees (left to right) Susan Sontag, E. L. Doctorow, Edward Albee, and dinner chair Greg Tobin.
In 1999, Poets & Writers Magazine was redesigned. The July/August issue features a four-color cover highlighting fiction writer Michael Cunningham.
Special events connect writers with audiences. In 2003, P&W and Barnes & Noble celebrated National Poetry Month with a poetry reading called “April Is the Cruelest Month.” Pictured (left to right) are P&W executive director Elliot Figman with poets Joan Murray, Sapphire, Regie Cabico, Timothy Liu, and Molly Peacock.
In 2003 the Writers for Writers Award was presented to Bob Holman, Ishmael Reed, and Amy Tan (left to right), pictured with poet Billy Collins.
Poets & Writers created the Writers Exchange Award in 1984 to introduce emerging writers to the New York City literary community. Seventy-six writers from thirty states have received this award to date. Anthony C. Brusate (bottom left) and Constance Alexander (bottom right), were the 2004 winners from Kentucky. Sigrid Nunez (top left) was the fiction judge and Tim Seibles (top right) the poetry judge.
In 2005, P&W began administering the Amy Award, which honors women poets age thirty and under who live in the New York City metropolitan area and on Long Island. Paula Trachtman (left), sponsor of the Amy Award, is pictured with 2007 Amy Award winners Mrigaa Sethi, Shabnam Piryaei, and Jessica Max Stein (left to right).
In 2006, P&W established the Jackson Poetry Prize, given to honor an American poet of exceptional talent who deserves wider recognition. The award, generously funded by the Liana Foundation, is designed to provide what all poets need: the time and encouragement to write. The $50,000 prize is among the largest monetary awards given to a poet. The first recipient was Elizabeth Alexander, pictured at a celebratory reading at the Nabi Gallery in New York City.
Writers Colson Whitehead (center) and Jonathan Lethem (left) celebrated at Poets & Writers thirty-fifth anniversary party at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City in 2005.
Elliot Figman, P&W’s executive director since 1981, started working at Poets & Writers as a volunteer in 1977. He is pictured here at the thirty-fifth anniversary party in 2005.
Through contributions to P&W’s first capital campaign, Writers Matter, the Readings/Workshops program expanded its work of supporting writers in New York and California to six new cities: Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans, Seattle, Tucson, and Washington, D.C. In March 2008, R/W supported five poets at the Split This Rock Festival: Poems of Provocation and Witness, in Washington, D.C.
Since 2001, P&W has sponsored an annual Intergenerational Reading, featuring teens and seniors from writing workshops supported by the Readings/Workshops program in New York City. Pictured are participants from the eighth annual Intergenerational Reading in 2009.
Poets & Writers Magazine continues to be the most relevant publication for creative writers, offering both inspiration and practical information about writing and publishing. The magazine has a total circulation of 55,000 and has won numerous editorial and design awards.
Occasional launch parties, such as this one for the January/February 2009 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, which was held at Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn, New York, bring staff and readers together to celebrate.
The 2009 benefit dinner raised more than $350,000 to support Poets & Writers programs. Among those who attended were (left to right) writers Tayari Jones, Francine Prose, and A. M. Homes.
Forty years young, Poets & Writers continues to provide encouragement to writers at all stages of their careers. Linda Gregg, winner of the 2009 Jackson Poetry Prize, shared the love with fellow poet Gerald Stern, at the Nabi Gallery in New York City.