The Poetry Center annually presents some 30 public readings, performances and lectures, on the San Francisco State University campus and at various off-campus venues, featuring outstanding poets and writers from across the literary spectrum. The Poetry Center reading series, founded in 1954, is one of the longest-running such programs in the country, with roots in the 1950s San Francisco Poetry Renaissance. We also house the American Poetry Archives, a collection approaching 5,000 hours of original audio and video recordings documenting our reading series. Historic recordings from 1954 forward are available for open access at The Poetry Center Digital Archive.
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 campus, and from a West Coast tour set up for him by English Professor Ruth Witt-Diamant. Today, The Poetry Center, located in rooms 511-512 of the Humanities Building on the SFSU campus, is one of the most long-lived and nationally renowned literary arts institutions in the United States.
Witt-Diamant, founding director of The Poetry Center, 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 many others, including some of the earliest documentation of the poets of the San Francisco Renaissance.
Since then, The Poetry Center has presented more than 100 continuous seasons of outstanding contemporary poets and writers reading from their works. With its companion project, The American Poetry Archives, the center has amassed nearly 5,000 hours of original recordings of poets and writers reading from their works. The Poetry Center represents an irreplaceable collective record of the past sixty years of American (and international) literary accomplishment.
Audio and Video Documentation
Since 1954, The Poetry Center has documented its readings through live recordings. Beginning in 1973, with the establishment by Director Kathleen Fraser of the American Poetry Archives, nearly every reading the Poetry Center has presented has been video-recorded.
Poetry Center Digital Archive, which debuted in April 2011, makes available significant portions of early audio recordings from the American Poetry Archives collection. New files are added incrementally, as recordings are prepared and as we proceed through the collection from 1954 onward. Beginning with Fall 2015, all new programs are being featured as streaming video: check out our Current Season.
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. The Poetry Center is presently engaged in a long-term project, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, among other sources, aimed at transferring the full collection of fragile magnetic tapes to digital media, significantly enhancing the lifespan and availability of our archived recordings.
Support for The Poetry Center
Poetry Center programs are presently supported by funding from Grants for the Arts-Hotel Tax Fund (City of San Francisco), College of Liberal & Creative Arts, San Francisco State University, SFSU's Instructionally Related Activities fund, the Fund for Poetry, the Dorothy A. Fowler Trust, and Friends of The Poetry Center.