When Dr. William Kolodney founded the Poetry Center of 92nd Street Y in 1939, he did so in order "to give poetry 'a local habitation and a name,' to make it belong, to give it a body, to humanize it..."
92Y has been a home to poets and every other kind of literary writer ever since. The Unterberg Poetry Center has provided a showcase for established and emerging talent, a platform for literary retrospectives and a testing ground for works-in-progress. As with 92nd Street Y, the development of the Poetry Center has been organic, growing out of Dr. Kolodney's founding vision while adapting to the emerging needs of the literary community.
From its first season of eight readings, the Poetry Center has expanded to include a reading series of approximately 30 events each year, most of which are held in 92Y’s 904-seat Kaufmann Concert Hall. In a separate lecture series, Books and Bagels, talks by leading biographers, critics, editors and translators are followed by a light brunch and informal conversation, and our writing program encourages writers to develop their talent and readers to deepen their appreciation of literature. Over the years, two outreach programs have been developed to make the Poetry Center readings accessible to New York City public high school students and to adult literacy students from the neighboring Union Settlement Association. The annual Discovery poetry contest gives new voices a chance to be heard, with publication in Paris Review Daily and a reading at the Poetry Center.
The Poetry Center has a long history of presenting interdisciplinary events and, in particular, has been a platform for verse drama, such as the 1949 Poets' Theater presentation of Jean Genet's The Servant Girls, Dylan Thomas leading the cast of the 1953 world-premiere reading of his Under Milk Wood and the reading of poet Paul Schmidt's translation of Euripides’ Medea in 2000.
The Poetry Center’s reading series is one of the oldest and most revered in the country and regularly attracts the most distinguished writers of our time. The Center has presented such major modern poets as W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens and Dylan Thomas. Other Poetry Center guests have included Margaret Atwood, Saul Bellow, Joseph Brodsky, Anthony Burgess, Umberto Eco, Ralph Ellison, John Fowles, Seamus Heaney, Eugéne Ionesco, David Mamet, Arthur Miller, Octavio Paz, Harold Pinter, Philip Roth, Susan Sontag, Sir Tom Stoppard, John Updike and Tennessee Williams.