Swenson Named Academy Director

Mary Gannon

On April 1 Tree Swenson took up the post of executive director of the Academy of American Poets, the New York City–based membership organization responsible for founding National Poetry Month. Swenson succeeds William Wadsworth.

Along with Swenson's appointment, the Academy has seen some changes in its board of directors. The position of president, previously held by Henry Reath, no longer exists. Paul Gottlieb, president of art-book publisher Harry N. Abrams, Inc., has replaced Jonathan Galassi as chairman. Reath and Galassi continue to serve on the board.

Swenson's arrival follows a tumultuous six months for the Academy. Wadsworth, the organization's executive director for the past 12 years, was asked to resign by Reath in August. In November the Academy announced that it had laid off half of its staff and planned to subdivide and lease half of its newly renovated SoHo offices. As of this writing, the Academy has not yet secured a tenant.

Swenson has her work cut out for her. For the past two fiscal years the Academy has operated in the red, and it is facing an expected operating deficit for this fiscal year. Her first order of business is to stabilize the organization financially. "It's not the sexy part of what the Academy is and does, but in order to support the great work, you've got to have that kind of foundation," she says. Swenson also plans to focus on the national reach of the organization: "I'm from the West. I want people who live in other parts of the country to feel as much a part of the Academy as people who are close enough to stop by the offices."

Swenson has no immediate plans to initiate any major changes to the Academy's programs, which include an awards series, the Online Poetry Classroom, a Web site, and the Poetry Book Club, which has been under review since November and whose fate will be decided this month. "The Academy's programs are great, and Bill [Wads-worth] gets a lot of credit for his work. He really made poetry a lot more visible. And I think that's one of the things that the Academy should continue to do," Swenson says. "I wouldn't be interested in working at the organization if I didn't think that it already had a very good track record."

In 1972 Swenson and Sam Hamill cofounded Copper Canyon Press, the Port Townsend, Washington, independent poetry publisher. She served as Copper Canyon's executive director and publisher, and her work included both editing and book design. From 1984 to 1993 she was the art director of Graywolf Press, and she has designed books for other distinguished presses, including Ecco, New Directions, Sarabande Books, and W.W. Norton. In 1994, after two decades of working in publishing, Swenson went back to school to pursue her master's in public administration at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In 1997 she became the director of programs for the Massachusetts Cultural Council in Boston. "In a way this position wraps up and makes sense of a lot of the work I've done to date," says Swenson. "It may be a difficult situation, but the organization is worth it."

Mary Gannon is deputy editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.