To fans of poetry and literary prose, mentioning New York City's 92nd Street Y evokes not merely a gym and community center, but also one of the premier venues in the country for literary readings and events, run under the auspices of the Y's Unterberg Poetry Center. This year, the Poetry Center is celebrating its 70th anniversary with a season of readings featuring such big names as T.C. Boyle, John Ashbery, Junot Díaz and, in December, an already-sold-out reading by Toni Morrison. The center's director, Bernard Schwartz, said, “We pride ourselves on presenting writers we believe in, who we find inspiring and who we want to use our stage to share.”
The 92nd Street Y itself was founded in 1874 as the Young Men's Hebrew Association, and the Poetry Center began in October 1939 with a reading by the poet William Carlos Williams. Since then, it's evolved into a multifaceted program involving readings by world-famous authors and creative writing workshops in all genres and levels. For publishers, the center has become something rare: a high-profile, totally book-based publicity event. According to Schwartz, he works to make the reading series, which consists of around 30 events, a mix of readings by authors with new books, tributes to classic authors and books, and events where there is “not even a close correlation between the authors we bring and the books coming out around that date.” Each November, as he begins planning the following fall season, Schwartz meets or talks with publishers to see what books they've got coming out next year.
Publishers value the series highly, not only as an opportunity to sell books, but also as a way to bring prestige and attention to their authors. This month, nonprofit publisher Library of America released poet John Ashbery's Collected Poems 1956—1987, to which the Y pegged a reading by Ashbery on October 27. Brian McCarthy, marketing director of Library of America, said, “We find the visibility in a broader sense more valuable than the book sales; that said, the book sales are very respectable. We certainly consider [the Y] one of the premier book talk venues in the city.”