The Academy of American Poets is the largest membership-based nonprofit organization fostering an appreciation for contemporary poetry and supporting American poets. For over three generations, the Academy has connected millions of people to great poetry through programs such as National Poetry Month, the largest literary celebration in the world; Poets.org, the Academy’s popular website; American Poets, a biannual literary journal; and an annual series of poetry readings and special events. Since its founding, the Academy has awarded more money to poets than any other organization.
The Academy was founded by twenty-three year-old Marie Bullock in 1934 in New York City and it was officially incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1936.
Marie Bullock founded the organization after returning to the United States from her studies at the Sorbonne in Paris. Concerned about the lack of financial support given to poets in America and their inability to make a living from their art, she decided to take action. With the advice of friends such as poets Edwin Arlington Robinson and Joseph Auslander (the first Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress), Mrs. Bullock drew up the plans and started raising funds to advocate for the importance of poetry and the survival of individual poets.
Marie Bullock served as the president of the Academy of American Poets for the organization's first fifty years. During the first thirty years, Mrs. Bullock operated the organization out of her apartment, centering on a core program of awards to poets. The Academy of American Poets awarded the very first cash prize in the United States recognizing a poet.
When Mrs. Bullock passed away in 1986, poet Anthony Hecht said: "It is impossible to convey the unflagging buoyancy and enthusiasm with which Marie Bullock met every challenge during the long course of her brilliantly successful crusade on poetry's behalf. She was a gallant, devoted, and generous champion of a cause that had few champions before her, and none so successful. American poetry and their readers are all in her debt."
In 1963, Elizabeth Kray was hired as the organization's first executive director. Betty Kray was a legendary promoter of poetry, especially through poetry readings; during her tenure at the Academy of American Poets she was instrumental in putting both the organization and the art of poetry on the cultural map. Under Betty's leadership, the organization launched a groundbreaking reading series at the Guggenheim Museum (1963), the first national touring circuits for poets (1965), the first Poets-in-the-Schools program (1966), the Walt Whitman Award (1975), and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award (1976).
Today, the Academy of American Poets is supported by the financial contributions of more than 8,000 individuals members nationwide, and funding from private foundations, corporations, and government sources such as the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.