Adrian Matejka will be first Black editor of Poetry magazine, which faced criticism on diversity

Published in Chicago, it’s one of the country’s oldest and most prominent literary publications. Matejka, a former Indiana poet laureate, has been a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

SHARE Adrian Matejka will be first Black editor of Poetry magazine, which faced criticism on diversity
Adrian Matejka, the new editor of Poetry magazine.

Adrian Matejka, the new editor of Poetry magazine.

Polina Osherov / AP

Poetry magazine, one of the country’s oldest and most prominent literary publications, will have a Black editor for the first time when Adrian Matejka, a former Indiana poet laureate, takes charge on May 16.

Matejka, 50, is a much-lauded poet whose 2013 collection “The Big Smoke” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

He said he’s “committed to re-imagining Poetry not only as a venue for poetics but, more importantly, as one that is in service of poets and treats writers as the gifts that they are.”

His hiring was announced by the Poetry Foundation, the Chicago not-for-profit organization that oversees Poetry. The foundation was established in 2003 after Ruth Lilly, an heir to the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical fortune, donated $100 million to the magazine.

Founded in 1912, Poetry has published the works of T.S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, John Ashbery and many other leading writers.

Several Matejka poems have run in the magazine.

“I couldn’t be more humbled or excited to be the new editor of Poetry,” Matejka said. “The 19-year-old version of me, thumbing through the magazine’s pages with wonder, would have never imagined that he would one day be part of such a vital literary institution.”

Michelle T. Boone, who last year became the foundation’s first Black president, said of Matejka: “As an accomplished poet, educator, and past poet laureate, Adrian brings invaluable talent and experience.”

Matejka, who grew up in Indianapolis, is also the author of the poetry collections “The Devil’s Garden,” “Map to the Stars” and “Somebody Else Sold the World” and an upcoming graphic novel, “Last On His Feet.”

He called it “strange serendipity” that he is the Ruth Lilly Professor of Poetry at Indiana University Bloomington.

Tyehimba Jess, the president of Cave Canem, a leading supporter of Black poets, praised Matejka’s appointment, saying: “Adrian’s vision of building literary community through excellence and diversity in publication is a critical step forward for Poetry.”

Jess also said, “Adrian has a track record of service to history and the fullness of each reader and poet’s humanity.”

Like many literary institutions, the Poetry Foundation has faced and been addressing criticism over diversity and social awareness. Two years ago, in the aftermath of the police killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd, its president and board chairman resigned amid criticism over a foundation statement expressing “solidarity with the Black community” and declaring faith in “the strength and power of poetry to uplift in times of despair.”

More than 1,500 poets, subscribers and teachers among others published an open letter denouncing the statement as vague and dispassionate. The letter’s endorsers called on the foundation and Poetry magazine, which support and organize a wide range of workshops, grants and awards, to provide “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.“

The foundation responded with “An Open Letter of Commitment to Our Community” in which it acknowledged that its leadership was predominantly white and vowed to “better serve the poets who entrust us with their work, creative or otherwise, and serve audiences who find solace, joy, insight, catalysts for change and more in poetry.”

Poetry hasn’t had a permanent editor since the summer of 2020. That’s when Don Share resigned after the magazine was criticized for publishing a poem which Share himself described as “insidious” and “particularly oppressive to Black, Pacific Islander, and Asian people.”

The foundation called his departure part of the “ongoing changes and conversations” outlined in its open letter.

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