An open letter to the Poetry Foundation from a group of its fellows and programmatic partners and signed by more than 1,800 individuals issued in response to the organization's June 3 statement on the killing of George Floyd and other current events calls for significant change at the organization.
Specifically, the letter demands the immediate resignation of both Poetry Foundation president Henry Bienen and board of trustees chair Willard Bunn III. In addition, the letter lists several other demands:
- the replacement of the president "by someone with a demonstrated commitment to both the world of poetry and the project of creating a world that is just and affirming for people of color, disabled people, trans people, queer people, and immigrants"
- a "meaningful statement that details the specific, material ways it plans to 'work to eradicate institutional racism'" from the board of directors"
- a "specific acknowledgment of the harm done in recent years to Latinx poets, trans poets, disabled poets, and queer poets"
- a "significantly greater allocation of financial resources toward work which is explicitly anti-racist in nature and, specifically, fighting to protect and enrich Black lives, in and outside of Chicago," where the Foundation is based
- a "significantly greater allocation of staff and financial resources" to its department of community and foundation relations, which " is overtaxed and managed by a staff of two women of color"
- and "that the staff of the Foundation more adequately reflect the demographics of the city of Chicago"
In outlining the reasons for its demands, the letter states: "On June 3, 2020, the Poetry Foundation released a vague statement that you 'stand in solidarity with the Black community, and denounce injustice and systemic racism,'" the letter reads. "This non-substantive, four-sentence statement—which contained no details, action plans, or concrete commitments—was the Foundation’s sole response to the ongoing state-sanctioned murders of Black people by police and the current wave of violent state repression of those protesting these killings. For years, your constituents have been calling on the Foundation to redistribute more of its enormous resources to marginalized artists, to make concrete commitments to and change-making efforts in your local community and beyond. We find this statement to be worse than the bare minimum."
In addition, signers of the letter have pledged not to submit any work to the Poetry Foundation's magazine, or participate in any future partnerships with the Foundation," until the demands are met. Among the initial signers are poets Kaveh Akbar, Franny Choi, Eve L. Ewing, Roy G. Guzmán, Angel Nafis, Hieu Minh Nguyen, Sam Sax, Danez Smith, Ocean Vuong, and Jamila Woods.
On June 10, Bienen and Bunn both resigned from their positions.
Correction: This article initially employed the logo of the Academy of American Poets, not that of the Poetry Foundation, and included a June 7 statement sent by the Academy. The two are unrelated entities. This story has also been updated with further information.