Adrian Matejka named first Black editor of Poetry magazine

One of the country's oldest and most acclaimed literary magazines appoints its first Black editor

Poetry magazine, one of the country’s oldest and most prominent literary publications, will for the first time have a Black editor. Adrian Matejka, an educator, former state laureate of Indiana and prize-winning poet, begins his new job May 16.

“I couldn’t be more humbled or excited to be the new editor of Poetry,” Matejka, 50, said in a statement. “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.”

Matejka, whose 2013 collection “The Big Smoke” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, added that he was “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.”

Adrian Matejka, an educator, former state laureate of Indiana and prize-winning poet who was named editor of Poetry magazine. (Polina Osherov via AP)

Matejka’s hiring was announced Tuesday by the Poetry Foundation, a Chicago-based 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. Poetry, founded in 1912, has published T.S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, John Ashbery and many other leading writers. Several Matejka poems have run in the magazine.

“As an accomplished poet, educator, and past poet laureate, Adrian brings invaluable talent and experience. We look forward to his leadership and collaboration with the team to share new poets and poetry with the world,” Michelle T. Boone, who in 2021 became the foundation’s first Black president, said in a statement.

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.” In what he calls “strange serendipity,” he is the Ruth Lilly Professor of Poetry at Indiana University Bloomington.

The president of Cave Canem, a leading supporter of Black poets, praised Tuesday’s announcement. Tyehimba Jess said in a statement that “Adrian’s vision of building literary community through excellence and diversity in publication is a critical step forward for Poetry. Through his work on the page and his activism as poet laureate of Indiana, Adrian has a track record of service to history and the fullness of each reader and poet’s humanity.”

Like numerous literary institutions, the Poetry Foundation has been addressing criticisms over diversity and social awareness. Two years ago, in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, the 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 its predominantly white leadership 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 has not had a permanent editor since the summer of 2020, 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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