The Poetry Center was founded in 1954 on the basis of a small donation by W. H. Auden — he surrendered the honorarium paid him when he read his poetry to celebrate the opening of the present San Francisco State University campus, and from a West Coast tour set up for him by English professor Ruth Witt-Diamant. Today, the Poetry Center is one of the most long-lived and nationally renowned literary arts institutions in the United States.
Founding director Ruth Witt-Diamant, with advice and encouragement from local poets Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Duncan, and Madeline Gleason among others, initiated The Poetry Center's pioneering poetry reading series, with a visit by Theodore Roethke in February 1954, followed by numerous other poets, including some of the earliest documentation of the poets on the San Francisco scene.
Since then, the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University has presented over one-hundred continuous seasons of outstanding contemporary poets and writers reading from their works. With its companion project, The American Poetry Archives, the Center has amassed over 4,000 hours of original recordings of poets and writers reading from their works. The Poetry Center represents an irreplaceable collective record of the past half-century of American literary accomplishment.
Audio & Video Documentation. Since 1954 The Poetry Center has documented its readings through live recordings. Beginning in 1973–74, with the founding by poet and then Director Kathleen Fraser of the American Poetry Archives, nearly every reading the Poetry Center has presented has been video-recorded.
POETRY CENTER DIGITAL ARCHIVE — debuted in April 2011 — makes available significant portions of early audio recordings from the Poetry Center's American Poetry Archives collection, supplemented by select archival texts and images. New files will be added incrementally as recordings are prepared and as we proceed through the collection from the 1950s onward.
For a representative selection, search our Online Archives Catalog
Preservation. In 1994 the Archives collection was relocated to a climate-controlled vault, greatly improving storage conditions and inhibiting deterioration to early and newer materials alike. We are currently engaged in a long-term project, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, involving transfer of fragile analog tapes to digital media, significantly enhancing the life-span and availability of archived recordings.
Poetry Center programs are currently supported by funding from National Endowment for the Arts, Grants for the Arts-Hotel Tax Fund (City of San Francisco), Fund for Poetry, College of Humanities, San Francisco State University, and Friends of the Poetry Center. JOIN US! DONATE
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