Ifeanyi Menkiti, owner of the 92 year-old Grolier Poetry Bookshop in Cambridge, Mass., has died at the age of 78. News of his death was announced on the bookstore's website.
Menkiti purchased the Grolier from its second owner, Louisa Solano, in 2006. At the time, the store was open by appointment only and struggling financially. Despite having no prior experience in bookselling, Menkiti and his wife Carol stepped in to save the store. Under their ownership, the small 404-sq.-ft. Harvard Square shop was host to significant poetry readings by writers including Michael McClure, Marie Ponsot, Franz Wright, and Robert Pinsky.
However, the store continued to have financial problems, leading Menkiti to create the nonprofit Grolier Poetry Foundation in 2012, which he intended to ultimately take over the store’s operations, ensuring its future and lessening the need to rely solely on retail sales. In addition to the foundation, the Grolier also launched a publishing program called the Grolier Discovery Awards in 2011.
Born in Onitsha, Nigeria in 1940, Menkiti immigrated to the United States to study at Pomona College. He later attended Harvard University, where he studied philosophy with John Rawls before taking a position as a professor at Wellesley College. He retired from teaching in 2014 and turned his attention to creating cultural facilities in Worcester, Mass., where he bought millions of dollars of real estate in recent years.
A poet himself, Menkiti continued to devote substantial energy to the Grolier, which first opened in 1927 and has been host to some of the nation’s most storied poets, including Ezra Pound, John Ashbery, T.S. Eliot, and Adrienne Rich. In a 2012 interview with PW, Menkiti said, “This isn’t like your regular business. You can’t close. People are counting on you. It’s a cultural institution, so you keep it going. I want to make sure, having spent this energy and resources, this thing will succeed. My sense is, if this thing can go after I’m gone, my work will be done.”