(New York, NY) December 13, 2022—The three organizations behind the Literary Arts Emergency Fund—the Academy of American Poets, Community of Literary Magazines & Presses, and National Book Foundation—have released a first-of-its-kind report on the state of the literary arts field in the U.S. The report demonstrates the unique contributions of the hundreds of nonprofit organizations and publishers that sustain literary culture in the U.S. and the challenges they face, particularly those that serve historically underrepresented groups.
Distinct from commercial publishing houses, bookstores, and libraries, the literary arts field uniquely:
- provides recognition and funding to writers to support the creation of new work;
- presents author readings and talks in towns and regions without other literary outposts;
- distributes free books in prisons and to community centers;
- offers writing workshops for students and adults;
- offers mentorship retreats for and amplifies the work of writers of color, LGBTQ+ writers, and writers with disabilities;
- organizes festivals and public programs celebrating books, writing, and reading; and
- publishes books, stories, essays, poems, and works in translation by authors not represented by commercial publishers.
Geographic Reach and Impact
Drawn from data collected from applications to the Literary Arts Emergency Fund and assessed by WolfBrown, a firm with expertise in market research and evaluation in the arts, in 2021, 410 nonprofit literary organizations and publishers from 44 different states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, served 8.9 million individuals in person and 211.4 million online with programs and publications. This reach is astounding, and even more so considering this was accomplished spending on average only $1.11 per individual served.
These 410 nonprofit literary organizations and publishers also served authors in concrete ways. In 2021, they:
- produced a total of 15,433 publications, which contained the works of 29,856 poets and writers;
- paid and awarded 32,579 poets and writers $9.9 million in prizes and publication fees; and
- engaged 19,880 poets and writers as teaching artists or presenting authors, paying them $12.1 million for this work.
Employment and Financial Support of Writers
Nonprofit literary organizations and publishers do more than efficiently engage an incredibly wide audience with literature and support and publish writers; they are also likely one of the largest employers of writers in the country.
The 410 organizations and publishers studied in 2021 employed 2,546 individuals. In addition, 92% reported having poets and writers on staff and 76% reported that a majority of their staff is made up of poets and writers.
Notably, they also disburse millions in financial support to the writers they serve. In 2021, they provided $22 million in prize and publication fees and payments to teaching artists and presenters at events.
The nonprofit literary arts field is financially vulnerable and could be in jeopardy of losing some of these jobs, however, and serving fewer writers, readers, and communities should another crisis like the recent pandemic emerge, particularly without additional emergency financial support. The majority of those organizations and publishers studied have bare-bones budgets and little or no safety-net:
- 87% have annual operating budgets less than $1 million;
- 76% have budgets less than $250,000;
- 74% have three paid staff people or fewer; and
- and 80% have no or insufficient cash reserves.
Nonprofit publishers were both the least likely to have any cash reserve and the least likely to have a sufficient cash reserve, defined as at least half their annual operating expenses.
Critical to note is that BIPOC-led literary organizations and publishers, and those whose primary focus is serving historically underrepresented groups, are underfunded and have smaller budgets than the rest of the field. Their median expenses in 2021 were $85,000.
A majority, 72%, of literary organizations and publishers studied noted that serving historically underrepresented groups was an area of work in addition to their primary focus. A smaller percentage, 39%, reported no BIPOC senior staff members. This is based on demographic information supplied by organizations and publishers that had data available based on individuals’ self-reporting, as is the following:
In terms of BIPOC representation on the Board:
- 33% of applicants reported a majority of Board members who identify as BIPOC;
- 69% reported that at least 25% identifies as BIPOC; and
- 17% reported no BIPOC representation on their Board.
The senior staff level had the least BIPOC representation:
- 33% reported that majority identify as BIPOC;
- 50% reported that at least 25% identifies as BIPOC; and
- 39% reported no BIPOC senior staff members.
Among other staff:
- 41% reported that a majority identify as BIPOC;
- 67% reported at least 25% identify as BIPOC; and
- 23% reported no BIPOC staff members.
Among FY2021 applicants, a majority of women was common at all organization levels; two thirds of applicants reported a majority of women on their Boards and three quarters reported a majority of women on their senior staff and staff.
Members of the LGBTQIA+ community had the highest representation on applicants’ staff levels.
The literary arts field makes unique and immeasurable contributions to writers, contemporary literature, and the wider arts and culture sector in the U.S. The wide reach and impact of nonprofit literary organizations and publishers demonstrates a clear and abundant demand from individuals for the books, stories, essays, poems, readings, writing workshops, and other literary offerings they produce. That these organizations and publishers meet this demand in large part with meager operating budgets and little or no cash reserve, particularly those that center and serve historically underrepresented groups, is impressive but not sustainable. The lack of financial resources manifests in inadequate staffing and results in vulnerable organizations and publishers unprepared to withstand another crisis.
(Credit: 2022 Literary Arts Emergency Fund Impact Report, Literary Arts Emergency Fund, established and administered by Academy of American Poets, Community of Literary Magazine & Presses, and National Book Foundation.)