Poetry Foundation President Henry Bienen and Board Chair William Bunn III resigned from their positions after an open letter from multiple poets, writers, and readers stated that the foundation’s response was “worse than the bare minimum.”
“It is an insult to the lives and families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless other victims of the racist institution of police and white supremacy,” the letter read.
The original statement, which pledged to “denounce injustice and systemic racism” as well as pledging to help “eradicate institutional racism,” didn’t seem to satisfy the poetry community’s desire for more change and diversity.
“We demand that the staff of the Foundation more adequately reflect the demographics of the city of Chicago,” said the letter. “We believe that as long as the Foundation’s staff and leadership remain overwhelmingly White, it fundamentally limits the Foundation’s ability to ever be an organization rooted in anti-racist practice.”
The letter also stated a list of five demands asking for the president to be replaced with a more representative candidate, the board would release a “meaningful statement that details the specific, material ways it plans to ‘work to eradicate institutional racism,’” acknowledgement of the lack of presentation for minority writers, redistribution and reallocation of funds towards social justice, and “programming which engages most meaningfully with Black people and other historically marginalized populations is largely coordinated by the department of Community and Foundation Relations.”
The letter went on to document that all of the writers who signed it would not be working with Foundation until all demands are met. The letter also acknowledged that although there was a general disappointment about the Foundation’s handling of these issues, there were some individuals who are not at fault.
“Some of us have formed long-standing relationships with members of your staff, and we are grateful for those in your midst who have served as powerful supporters and allies while they themselves have had to contend from within with the Foundation’s harms,” the letter said.