The Poetry Foundation seeks a President to lead this thriving and vital independent and nationally recognized literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. Publisher of Poetry magazine, the oldest monthly publication devoted to verse in the English-speaking world, the Poetry Foundation has its roots in the heart of poetic verse, and has grown to encompass programming, media, and collaborative partnerships dedicated to fulfilling the mission of the organization to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience.

Established in 2003 upon receipt of a major gift from philanthropist Ruth Lilly, the Poetry Foundation evolved from the Modern Poetry Association, which was founded in 1941 to support the publication of Poetry magazine. The gift from Ruth Lilly has allowed the Poetry Foundation to expand and enhance the presence of poetry in America and has established an endowment that will fund the magazine and the organization’s programs in perpetuity. The Foundation employs 22 full time staff, and has a 2015 operating budget of $9.3M and an endowment of more than $200M. Last year programming and publication activities reached almost 400,000 constituents in Chicago, the United States, and beyond, while digital and other media resources reached over 44 million readers, listeners, and viewers.


In 2002, philanthropist Ruth Lilly gave an unprecedented gift to what was then the Modern Poetry Association: $185M to sustain Poetry magazine and its critical mission in the poetry world in perpetuity. As a result, the Poetry Foundation was founded as an operating foundation, with a mission to publish Poetry, to celebrate poetry as an art form, and to place it before the largest possible audience.


Poetry was founded in Chicago by Harriet Monroe in 1912, and remains the creative cornerstone of the Poetry Foundation. Monroe's "Open Door" policy, set forth in Volume I of the magazine, remains the most succinct statement of Poetry's mission: to print the best poetry written today, in whatever style, genre, or approach. The magazine established its reputation early by publishing important and in some cases early poems of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, H.D., William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, and other now-classic authors. In its early days, as now, Poetry sought out new and innovative voices in the poetic landscape and championed their work in its pages—sometimes even under heavy criticism. In succeeding decades it has presented—often for the first time—works by virtually every significant poet of the 20th century. Poetry has always been independent, unaffiliated with any institution or university—or with any single poetic or critical movement or aesthetic school. True to its “Open Door” policy, the magazine continues to print the major English-speaking poets, while presenting emerging talents, in all their variety. In recent years, more than a third of the authors published in the magazine have been young writers appearing for the first time. On average, the magazine receives over 120,000 submissions per year, from around the world. In 2014 magazine circulation achieved 24,000 subscriptions in the US and 1,000 internationally.


To further the goal to celebrate poetry as an art form, and to place it before the largest possible audience, the Foundation has developed and grown its programs to include the following activities:

The Poetry Foundation hosts a robust schedule of live events throughout the year. Ranging from poetry readings to staged plays, events have also included artist collaborations, exhibition openings, and other performances. In 2014, the Foundation hosted 38 events at their location in Chicago with 4,000 total attendees.

Digital Programs
Using emerging technology, the Foundation reaches and engages a broad audience for poetry. Through its award-winning website, mobile applications, and social media, the Foundation seeks to create new readers of poetry, serve existing poetry fans, and support Foundation initiatives and programs. The website boasted 30 million unique worldwide visitors in 2014, and is the go-to online archive for English language poetry, as well as poetry in translation.

Media and Marketing
Through strategic media and marketing partnerships, the Foundation aims to increase the presence of poetry in the cultural landscape. The existing media portfolio brings poetry to audiences via television, radio, print, and independent digital channels.

Poetry Out Loud
The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation have partnered with U.S. state arts agencies to support Poetry Out Loud, a recitation competition that encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps high school students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage. In the 2014 school year, 365,000 students participated in Poetry Out Loud, representing 2,300 schools. Winners were awarded over $65,000 in prizes, and schools received over $40,000 for poetry books.

Awards and Recognitions
The awards given by the Poetry Foundation directly support and encourage poets. The Pegasus Awards are a family of prizes intended to celebrate under-recognized poets and types of poetry. The annual Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize honors a living U.S. poet whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition. The Children’s Poet Laureate, appointed every two years, is a title given to a living American poet who writes exceptional poetry for the very young reader. The Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships are awarded to young U.S. poets each year to encourage the further study and writing of poetry.

The Midwest's only library dedicated exclusively to poetry, the Poetry Foundation Library exists to promote the reading of poetry in the general public, and to support the editorial needs of all Poetry Foundation programs and staff. Visitors to the library may browse a collection of 30,000 volumes, experience audio and video recordings in private listening booths, and view exhibits of poetry-related materials. In addition to providing public access to its collections in the form of a reading room, the library creates interactive programs to inspire a wider readership for poetry in readers of all ages. The library’s collection aims to present the best poetry, in English or in translation, of the modern and contemporary era, as well as representative selections of the major poetic works of all eras. A children’s collection contains a range of titles to engage young readers.

Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute
The Institute is an independent forum created to provide a space in which fresh thinking about poetry, in both its intellectual and its practical needs, can flourish free of any allegiance other than to the best ideas. The Institute convenes leading poets, scholars, publishers, educators, and other thinkers from inside and outside the poetry world to address issues of importance to the art form of poetry and to identify and champion solutions for the benefit of the art.

The Building
The Poetry Foundation’s home at 61 West Superior Street in Chicago’s River North neighborhood represents the first space in Chicago dedicated solely to the art of poetry, and Poetry’s first permanent home in its 100-year history. Designed by the Chicago firm John Ronan Architects, the building has been widely praised since its opening in June 2011 and received an American Institute of Architects Honor Award for Excellence in Architecture. The November 2011 issue of Architectural Record noted, “In keeping with the art form it serves, the new Poetry Foundation is a respectful, restrained building that employs an economy of means and methods, just as a good poem employs an economy of language.” The building complies with the Silver Level of the US Green Building Council’s LEED Rating System. In 2014, 3,000 guests visited the building to use the library or attend exhibitions.


The 15 member Board of Trustees of the Poetry Foundation oversees the governance, management, and direction of the organization. Board members serve 4 year terms, and are eligible for two consecutive terms. The Board operates with an active committee structure that includes four standing committees per the Foundation’s by-laws: Executive, Finance, Audit, and Governance. The Board is diverse in its composition and includes individuals with deep experience in philanthropy, arts management, government, education, and business.

A dedicated staff of 22 full time and 4 part time employees works across the program areas at the foundation, listed above. Reporting directly to the President are the Chief Financial Officer, the Editor of Poetry, Program Director, Media and Marketing Director, Director of the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute, Director of Digital Programs, and Library Director. Program and event expenses account for nearly 70% of the 2015 operating budget. The remainder of the operating budget covers general and administrative expenses and operational costs of the new building.


The President, reporting to the 15 member Board of Trustees, will take charge of a relatively young operating foundation that has tremendous opportunity to grow into the fulfillment of its mission. Keenly aware of the profound responsibility of shepherding an organization with a significant endowment, the Board has crafted a sound organizational and financial framework for the Foundation in the twelve years since the Lilly gift. A thoughtful strategic planning process in the early years helped to define and guide the development of new programs and initiatives, and the stunning new building has distinctively embodied those priorities.

Now, at this inflection point, with a solid footing and with the magazine and public programs thriving and evolving, the collective challenge for the organization is to identify, define, and evaluate its desired, mission-driven outcomes. The President must direct the Foundation in continuing to serve all aspects of its mission to bring the best poetry to the largest possible audience through strategic, thoughtful, and visible leadership. The next President is expected to provide strategic, forward-looking leadership toward that end, and to work effectively with board, staff and external partners to lead the Poetry Foundation into its next ten years, and Poetry magazine into its next one hundred years.

The primary objectives for the next President are as follows:

  • In partnership with the board and staff, lead the effort to shape a collective vision of success for the Foundation. Ensure that operations and programming are serving to achieve these shared organizational goals.
  • Lead the Board of Trustees through new strategic conversations, while serving as a bridge between board, staff, constituents, and partners. Work closely with the board to continue to define its role in Foundation leadership.
  • Serve as a thought leader in the poetry community, as well as the Chicago community, the arts community, and national and international communities. Bring true dedication to magnifying the role of poetry in society to ensure the art form’s relevance for new and existing audiences into the future.
  • Recruit and further develop staff members who will continue to serve as the driving creative force behind the programmatic successes of the Foundation.
  • Support the sometimes differing goals of the magazine to support experimental and avant-garde work, while simultaneously aiming to reach broad audiences through all Foundation programs. Understand and promote the need for both types of action and create bridges between the two objectives where and when possible.
  • Create strategic partnerships with local arts, education, and media organizations to solidify the Poetry Foundation as a Chicago based institution with national reach. Work to solidify the Foundation’s place in the fabric of the city of Chicago’s creative arts community, and its place in the national and international communities of arts organizations.
  • Carefully steward the Foundation’s financial resources, while thinking creatively about future financial needs of the organization. Generate and enact plans to achieve programmatic and partnership funding needs.
  • Define and identify audiences for growth and impact in the world of poetry. Guide staff in the strategic targeting of programming to develop and maintain those audiences.
  • Support new media and technology endeavors to enliven and animate the mission of the Foundation. Act as champion for broad and meaningful access to Foundation resources, programming, and expertise.


The President must have a love of poetry as an art form and be able to inspire and bring people together around poetry and the written and spoken word. This position calls for someone with strong institutional management and communication skills and outstanding artistic curiosity.

While no one candidate will bring all of the skills and experience sought, the ideal candidate will bring many of the following professional experiences and personal characteristics:

  • Demonstrated commitment to the values of the Poetry Foundation and an informed sophistication and passion for poetry.
  • Experience in successfully managing the operations and fiscal affairs of a private sector or nonprofit entity, or the equivalent.
  • Demonstrated capacity to effectively manage a sophisticated staff of creative people and to develop programs in cultural or literary organizations.
  • Demonstrated experience working effectively with boards.
  • A track record of converting ideas and opportunities into operating programs.
  • Solid relationship-building skills; ability to cultivate partnerships with a wide variety of constituents.
  • Strong oral and written communications skills, with the ability to address issues in non-polarizing ways; an accomplished public speaker who can communicate the energy and vision of the Foundation to its constituencies, and who can convey leadership as a Foundation representative and advocate.
  • The capacity to leverage partnerships for resource development and implement a fundraising strategy and program, if called upon.

In addition, the individual should be:

  • Open-minded, with the flexibility necessary to provide direction in an evolving organization; comfortable with a strong and sustained diversity of opinions.
  • Committed to diversity within the organization, and among its publications, audiences, and program offerings.
  • A good listener and consensus builder, able to balance diverse agendas while maintaining on all fronts a sense of common purpose.
  • A strategist who can anticipate and act on events that may create beneficial opportunities for the Foundation.


All inquiries, nominations/referrals, and resumes with cover letters, should be sent electronically and in confidence to:

Sheryl Ash, Vice President
Cortney Tunis, Associate

Isaacson, Miller
263 Summer Street
Boston, MA 02210
Telephone: 617-262-6500

The Poetry Foundation is an equal opportunity employer and values the perspectives and talents of a diverse staff.

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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