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Poets House Creates a Home for all Who Read and Write PoetryFounded in 1985 by poet Stanley Kunitz and arts administrator Elizabeth (Betty) Kray, Poets House has created a home for all who read and write poetry. The library was modeled on The Poetry Library at the Southbank Centre in London – England’s national poetry library that is open to visitors – and established itself modestly in a New York City public high school. In 1986, the library officially opened with a collection of 600 books from Paul Zweig. Betty envisioned a place for poetry that would nurture poets and invite the public into the widest tradition of the art. She approached Stanley Kunitz and he said, “Let’s call it Poets House. ‘House’ is so much bigger than any institution.”
Poets House Grows and Moves to its Current Home in Battery Park CityFrom 1990 to 2008 Poets House was located in an intimate loft at 72 Spring Street in Soho. It was there that Poets House built its library collection, becoming a nationally and internationally recognized literary center and presenter of imaginative programs. The Poets House Showcase emphasized the partnership between publishers and poets in bringing books of poetry to their audiences, Poetry In The Branches was established as a model to help libraries create centers for the discovery of poetry at their own sites.
As rent increases began to make Soho an impractical location, Poets House was fortunate to be designated by the Battery Park City Authority as a rent-free tenant with a lease until 2069 in a new building on the banks of the Hudson River.
In the summer of 2009, Poets House moved to its permanent home at 10 River Terrace in Battery Park City and opened to the public on September 25, 2009. This 11,000-square-foot, eco-friendly “green” space features The Reed Foundation Library, Margo Viscusi Reading Room and Frank Platt Listening Center; Kray Hall, a state-of-the-art auditorium that opens onto a natural amphitheater in Teardrop Park South; the Cheney Chappell Exhibition Space, a glass-walled gallery space for poetry-related installations and archives; and the Constance Laibe Hays Children’s Room, a whimsical children’s poetry room with free programs for families and schools.
From modest beginnings, this “place for poetry” has become an 11,000-square-foot home for poetry with a collection exceeding 60,000 volumes and serving 50,000 people on-site each year and millions more nationally and online each year. A master list of all Poets House programs held from 1986 to the present can be found here.