In Memoriam: Ruth Lilly, 1915-2009

The staff and trustees of the Poetry Foundation are greatly saddened by Ms. Lilly's death and honor her extraordinary legacy.
By The Editors
Ruth Lilly.Ruth Lilly

CHICAGO—The Poetry Foundation is grateful for Ruth Lilly’s extraordinary generosity and kindness. The staff and trustees of the Poetry Foundation are greatly saddened by Ms. Lilly’s death and extend their condolences to her family. Thanks to Ms. Lilly’s munificence, the programs of the Poetry Foundation bring poems to 19 million Americans who would not otherwise read or hear them. From the annual $100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize honoring a contemporary poet’s lifetime accomplishment, to five Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowships that go to aspiring poets, to ensuring Poetry magazine continues publishing in perpetuity, to a host of new programs and prizes established by the Poetry Foundation since receiving the bequest, Ruth Lilly’s legacy will allow millions of readers to discover the great magic of poetry for generations to come.

“Poetry has no greater friend than Ruth Lilly,” said Poetry Foundation President John Barr. “Her historic gift is notable not only for its size—that part of her largesse is known to every corner of the poetry world—but also because it was made with no conditions or restrictions of any kind as to how it should be used for the benefit of poetry. In that, it was the purest expression of her love for the art that meant so much to her as poet herself, and as benefactor.”

The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine and one of the largest literary organizations in the world, exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience. The Poetry Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry through innovative literary prizes and programs.

Originally Published: December 31st, 2009
  1. January 1, 2010
     Michael Lee Johnson, Poet, Ita

    In an era when millions are paid for sports figures to run up and down a court or football field, a lady Ruth Lilly, quietly paved the way for poets to be paid for their work and help promote one, if not the greatest poetry magazine of all time, Poetry, right here in Chicago.

  2. January 1, 2010
     Jim Powell

    I have been sorry to see the distracting turmoil brought to the Poetry Foundation with the gift of the authentically generous Ruth Lilly. While we here in the literary community of Indianapolis, her home, no doubt felt a bit left out, there continues to be great gladness for the good work of your Foundation that's allowed by her sincere belief in the power of poetry. The organization I directed for any years, the Writers' Center of Indiana, matured in the 1990s largely thanks to Ruth Lilly's gifts. Even upon the sad occasion of her death, it should comfort us to know that the heart of poetry will beat more strongly in the long future because of Ruth Lilly's foresight.

  3. January 2, 2010
     Paul Ulrich

    As a fitting tribute, Poetry Magazine might (re-)publish some of Ms. Lilly's poems in its January 2010 publication.

  4. January 3, 2010
     metin sahin

    lie in holy and bright lights lady...

  5. January 5, 2010
     Angela C. Trudell Vasquez

    In 1995, I was a Ruth Lilly Poetry
    Fellowship finalist. It was an honor, a
    wonderful and eye opening experience for
    a young poet from Iowa. Today I am still
    a poet and a board member of the
    Woodland Pattern Book Center in
    Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When I heard of
    her passing on NPR I thought oh the
    poetry world has lost a good friend. She
    will be missed by people she's never met.

  6. January 8, 2010

    She makes me want to be a philanthropist. While it will likely not happen (there are a few obstacles between me and millions of dollars), just imagine for a few minutes what it would be like to know you could give to people who would be deeply affected by your gift. The fellowship her gift established deeply impacted my life. The funds were good, sure. Money is rather useful here on earth. But it meant something else, other, and more to receive a fellowship in her name from Poetry and the Poetry Foundation. If there's anything negative about some people's comments of Lilly's gift, it's that it might alter other benefactors' decisions as they considering donating significant sums to the arts. All arts organizations should have celebrated her bequest. It would have been better, more productive press for future donors to read. Alas, wisdom ain't two cents per pound. Good night, Ms Lilly. May the clouds you sit upon be as tall as your hair. Thanks again, from all of us down here in Poetryville. It does matter.

  7. January 20, 2010
     Claire F. Bryant

    I am a 63 year old retiree who has been writing poetry since I was 16 years old. Until reading a Lakeland Ledger article in Lakeland, Florida, I was of the opinion that Poetry was as dead as the Latin Language. I am very thankful that Ruth Lily has helped to keep Poetry alive. I have a collection that I have written and would like to find someone to publish them. I am quite sure I am not alone in the humor, drama and real life in Poetry

  8. January 21, 2010
     Goldalee Semel

    Thank you, Ms. Ruth Lilly,

    For all you did, and continue to do for so many millions of new - and not so new - readers, writers and lovers of poetry.
    ; )
    May you rest in Poetry's Eternal Peace.


  9. March 8, 2010
     Elaine S. Ingram

    Like Claire F. Bryant, I have written poetry for a very long time. My poems have been praised and enjoyed by many. I have no college background and write simply by what sounds right, supported by strong grammar, vocabulary and spelling skills. Unfortunately, despite numerous submissions, my only publication has been in a locally published poetry journal, “Plop Plop,” and a vanity chapbook, “While You Were Preaching.” My comment is simply that, with my fellow Indianapolis writer Jim Powell, I would like to see the Foundation encourage more local poetry organizations and poets. It would be wonderful if rather than fellowships to persons already refining their poetic skills in formal study, the fellowships were offered to anyone who has dedicated much of his/her life to writing poetry and has a significant body of work, though unpublished, or, even, instead of money, the Fellowships took the form of commitment to publish a specified number of the recipient's works within a specified period of time. It seems self evident that money is not the goal for dedicated poets. They probably already have a living aside from poetry. Publication is the greater prize. Thank you for your attention.