Diversity at Poetry by the Sea

Diversity at Poetry by the SeaWhile Kim and I were corresponding over our latest addition to the Poetry by the Sea schedule, poet and spoken word artist Mahogany Browne as a spotlight reader, I found myself pondering the broader issue of diversity in general, and how it relates to the two conferences with which I have been intimately involved.

Diversity at Poetry by the Sea

18 months ago, when we were first planning the conference, something we were 100% committed to was this idea of diversity at Poetry by the Sea. When Kim took over as the Director of the West Chester Poetry Conference, one of her tasks was to increase the diversity of that conference, not only with respect to the faculty and panelists, but also with respect to the attendees. And Kim did that. She brought people like Natasha Trethewey and Julia Alvarez in as Keynotes and speakers, she made arrangements with Cave Canem to give younger African American poets scholarships, and she put more women on panels. Ironically, when Kim was removed from her position as Director (which we know now was because she revealed financial irregularities that WCU wanted to cover up) some long time attendees (read older white men) theorized that it was because she had allowed the conference to be taken over by “fringe elements.” Diversity, it would seem, is not for everyone.

So, one of the wonderful things about starting a new conference from scratch is that we were able to be as diverse as we wanted, without having to fight a rearguard action from people who preferred the status quo. Diversity at Poetry by the Sea starts at the top, with key board members Russell Goings and Cherise Pollard. Our faculty (Dick Davis, Anna M. Evans, Joshua Mehigan, Steven P. Schneider, A.E. Stallings. Annie Finch, Natalie Gerber, Rafael Campo, Richard Blanco, Allison Joseph, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Marilyn Taylor, Terri Witek with Cyriaco Lopes) represents a broad variety of people too—men and women, gay and straight, various ethnicities. Our spotlight readers (in addition to Mahogany) range from X.J. Kennedy through Patrick Phillips and Gregory Pardlo. We have a specific panel on June Jordan at 80, but more importantly, you will never walk into any Poetry by the Sea panel and see yet another bunch of white men, with maybe a token white woman thrown in. Naturally the Cave Canem scholarships migrated with Kim, and this year we are pleased to announce that they have been awarded to Keith Wilson and David Mills. (You can see the full schedule here.)

Basically, having this level of diversity at Poetry by the Sea makes it feel like the world looks, which is not like almost any other poetry conference. And we are proud of that.


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