Poetry offers us the capacity to carry in us and express the contradictory impulses that make us human.

—Kwame Dawes, Academy of American Poets Chancellor (2018- )

Jen Benka

As President & Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets, Jen advocates for poets, poetry, and the work of poetry organizations nationwide. Jen has been interviewed by publications and programs including ABC News, the Associated Press, CBC Radio, CNN, GO Magazine, Newsday, National Public Radio, PBS NewsHour, PBS Books, Public Radio International, Publishers Weekly, The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, and WNYC. 

In 2019 - 2020, Jen secured $6.7 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the Poetry Coalition and the Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowships, which enable poets' civic programs, making the organization the nation's largest funder of poets. Jen is one of seven arts leaders responsible for launching and administering Artist Relief, a $20 million emergency fund for artists and writers affected by COVID-19. Jen also initiated the Literary Arts Emergency Fund, which provided $3.5 million to 282 nonprofit literary organizations and publishers.

Jen oversees Poets.org and led a redesign of the site; the Poem-a-Day series, relaunching it as the first place of publication for poems, resulting in the Academy becoming one of the most prolific publishers of contemporary poetry; National Poetry Month; the American Poets Prizes; grants to poetry organizations; American Poets magazine; readings and conversations, and an annual event at Lincoln Center featuring leading artists and public figures; and K-12 poetry resources for teachers, including Teach This Poem, which Jen helped design and which won the 2018 Innovations in Reading Prize from the National Book Foundation. Jen also helped launch and administers the Poetry Coalition, an alliance of 25+ nonprofit poetry organizations across the United States.

Jen is a frequent recommender and judge for numerous national and international poetry awards, fellowships, and residencies offered by other institutions, including the Lambda Literary Awards, honoring LGBTQ books; the National Student Poets; and National Youth Poet Laureate.

Jen has helped lead national organizations dedicated to the literary arts and culture for the past two decades. Before joining the Academy of American Poets, Jen was the National Director of Development and Marketing for 826 National, an award-winning youth writing organization based in San Francisco, founded by the author Dave Eggers. There, Jen led trainings for leaders from around the world interested in developing, funding, and marketing nonprofit arts and literacy programs. Before 826, Jen was a part of the leadership team that launched The Bay Citizen, a $17 million journalism startup affiliated with The New York Times, serving as the Vice President of Development. Prior to being in the Bay Area, Jen worked in New York City for nearly a decade as the Managing Director of Poets & Writers overseeing Poets & Writers Magazine, PW.org, grantmaking, and administrative staff, and helped lead a multi-million dollar capital campaign that succeeded in expanding a national grantmaking program supporting poets and writers giving readings and workshops in several cities, and establishing the Jackson Poetry Prize. Jen has served on the Boards of Small Press Traffic in San Francisco and Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee, and on grantmaking panels for the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Milwaukee County Cultural Artistic and Musical Programming Advisory Council, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts. 

Jen is also the author of the poetry collections Pinko (Hanging Loose Press, 2011) and A Box of Longing With Fifty Drawers (Soft Skull Press, 2005); the artist book Preamble, a collaboration with artist Mark Wagner (Booklyn, 2003), which is in numerous special collections, including the Brooklyn Museum, British Library, Library of Congress, and SFMOMA; and co-author, with poet Carol Mirakove, of the chapbook, 1,138 (Belladonna, 2007). Jen's essays, opinion pieces, and poems have appeared in numerous publications, including the AwlBrooklyn Rail, ElectricLit, Huffington PostCrossing State Lines: An American Renga (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos (Anhinga Press, 2018), and Feminisms in Motion (AK Press, 2018). Jen holds a BA degree in Journalism from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and an MFA degree in creative writing from The New School University in New York, New York.

Contact Jen

Jennifer Benka