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Past Leadership

Cornelius Eady

“Few people have made as an impactful contribution to American poetry—through his decades of advocacy, through his kindness, and through his sharply incisive poems—as Cornelius Eady.” —Rob Arnold, Executive Director

Poet, playwright, songwriter, and Cave Canem co-founder Cornelius Eady was the Poets House Interim Director from 2021-2022, guiding the organization through a period of uncertainty and rebuilding community through his extensive outreach. In 2023, he was elected to the Poets House Board of Directors.

Under Eady’s leadership, Poets House conducted its national Listening Campaign, which invited thousands of community members to weigh in on the past and future of Poets House. As the public face of the organization, he relaunched Poets House programming with digital offerings like the Hard Hat Reading Series and Open House, a weekly interview program on WBAI which he co-hosted with Patricia Spears Jones. These initiatives greatly expanded geographic access to Poets House programming and have become templates for inclusivity and open participation.

In 1996, seeking to counter disempowerment and exclusion in the literary world, Eady co-founded with writer Toi Derricotte the Cave Canem summer retreat for Black poets. Three decades later, Cave Canem is a thriving national network as well as an institution nurturing and celebrating Black poetry through regional workshops, readings, prizes, and its renowned annual retreat. With Derricotte he won The Paul Engle Prize, the Phyllis Franklin Award, and the Literarian Award from the National Book Foundation. In 2008, he received the Poets House Elizabeth Kray Award for service to the field of poetry.

Eady is the author of eight poetry collections, including Victims of the Latest Dance Craze, winner of the 1985 Lamont Prize; The Gathering of My Name, nominated for the 1992 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; Brutal Imagination; and Hardheaded Weather, nominated for an NAACP Image Award. He wrote the libretto to Diedre Murray’s opera Running Man, which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1999, and his verse play Brutal Imagination won the Newsday/Oppenheimer Award for the best first play from an American playwright in 2002. His many chapbooks include The Sterling Brown Project, The War Against the Obvious, and The Autobiography of a Jukebox. His work as a poet and musician has appeared on NPR, PBS, and BBC Radio. His CD, Don’t Get Dead: Pandemic Folk Songs by the Cornelius Eady Trio, was released in March 2021 by June Appal Recordings and featured on the BBC Radio 4 Show. Most recently, he appeared in a PBS Newshour Profile with Jeffery Brown.

Eady’s awards include fellowships from the NEA, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. He has also been named Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts by The University of Rochester; was a finalist for the 2009 NAACP Image Award; the O. B. Hardson, Jr. Poetry Prize for excellence in poetry and teaching in 2003; the Obie award for “The Running Man” in 1994; and the Academy of American Poets Lamont Prize for Victims of the Latest Dance Craze in 1985.

A celebrated teacher for over twenty years, Eady is Professor of English and the John C. Hodge Chair of Excellence at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.

Lee Briccetti

“Lee turned Poets House into one, if not the, major location for poetry in the United States.” —Cornelius Eady

Lee Briccetti was the long-time Executive Director of Poets House from 1989-2021. Her leadership of the organization over 32 years built it into one of the premiere literary centers in the United States and one of the great poetry libraries in the world, bringing it from a home economics room in a high school to a magnificent space created just for the art of poetry. Since the early 1990s, Briccetti inculcated a spirit of radical inclusion and diversity, which informed both the collection building and the programming of the organization—welcoming all, and constantly seeking to expand the definition of poetry to include all poetic traditions, through such programs as Oral Traditions and The People’s Poetry Gathering.

In the early 2000s Briccetti oversaw the $11M capital project that led to a permanent home for Poets House—including a program hall, Children’s Room, library, and classrooms—on the banks of the Hudson River, to which the organization moved in 2009. Under Briccetti, in this new home in Lower Manhattan, Poets House produced over 240 programs annually, welcomed thousands of students on free class trips, and created a pluralistic space for dialogue and learning. The organization’s service exponentially expanded in this state-of-the-art LEED-certified green space built just for poetry, with 80,000 people crossing the threshold annually, and millions more experiencing poetry through the organization’s online presence and national programs in partner libraries and cultural institutions.

Briccetti invented the Poets House Showcase, which since 1992 has gathered each year’s new poetry books in one place. She established Poetry in The Branches, a program that mentored scores of public library systems over decades, helping them to become centers for the discovery of poetry in their own communities. And she was part of a cohort of the original organizers of the People’s Poetry Festival, exploring poetry’s roots in oral traditions. She developed the beloved Poetry Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge, which for decades raised essential funds to support the library and activities of Poets House.

Briccetti’s essays have appeared in Blueprints: Bringing Poetry into Communities, ed. Katharine Coles (University of Utah Press); This-World Company: Collected Essays on the Work of Jean Valentine, ed. Kazim Ali and John Hoppenthaler (University of Michigan Press); and the recent Jane Cooper: A Radiance of Attention, ed. Martha Collins and Celia Bland (University of Michigan Press); as well as The Language of Conservation, a compilation of essays on poetry and the environment. Additionally, Poetic Species: A Conversation Between E.O. Wilson and Robert Hass was framed by her introductory essay and published by Bellevue Literary Press.

A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, Briccetti received an MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and is the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship for Poetry and a poetry fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She has been awarded residencies at MacDowell, The Millay Colony, and the American Academy in Rome. Her most recent volume of poems is Blue Guide (2018), preceded by Day Mark (2005), both published by Four Way Books.