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- )

Jennifer Benka

As President and Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets, Jen is an advocate for poets, poetry, and the work of poetry organizations nationwide. She has been interviewed by publications and programs including ABC News, the Associated Press, CBC Radio, CNN, GO Magazine, Newsday, PBS NewsHour, PBS Books, Public Radio International, Publishers Weekly, The New York TimesThe Washington Post, and WNYC. She has been called "one of the busiest women in poetry" and someone who "believes poetry can improve the world" by the Chicago Review of Books.

She is a frequent recommender and judge for numerous national and international poetry fellowships, residencies, and awards offered by other institutions, including the Lambda Literary Awards, the National Student Poets, and National Youth Poet Laureate. In her day-to-day role she oversees Poets.org, the Poem-a-Day series, National Poetry Month, the American Poets Prizes, grants and awards, Teach This Poem and K-12 poetry resources for teachers, American Poets magazine, readings and conversations, and coordinates the Poetry Coalition, an alliance of 25+ nonprofit poetry organizations across the United States. In 2019, she secured $6.7 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the Poetry Coalition and the Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowships, which will enable civic programs. She is one of seven arts leaders responsible for launching and administering Artist Relief, an emergency fund for artists and writers affected by Covid-19. 

For much of her more than 25 years in nonprofit management, Jen has helped lead national organizations dedicated to writing and poetry. Before joining the Academy of American Poets, Jen was the National Director of Development and Marketing for 826 National, a youth writing organization based in San Francisco, founded by the award-winning author Dave Eggers. There, she led trainings for leaders from around the world interested in developing, funding, and marketing nonprofit arts and literacy programs. Before 826, she 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 her time in the Bay Area, she worked in New York City for nearly a decade as the Managing Director of Poets & Writers where she oversaw Poets & Writers Magazine, web, program, 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. She has served on the Boards of Small Press Traffic in San Francisco and Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee, and on arts and literature 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 collections at SFMOMA, the British Library, and the Library of Congress; and co-author, with poet Carol Mirakove, of the chapbook, 1,138 (Belladonna, 2007). Her 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 poetry from The New School University in New York, New York.

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Jennifer Benka