CUNY - The City University of New York

04/09/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 04/09/2024 11:25

CUNY Celebrates its Distinguished Poets for National Poetry Month

Colleges to Host Events Spotlighting Their Leading Poets; University Counts Eight Current Poets Laureate and Two Pulitzer Prize Winners

To commemorate National Poetry Month, the City University of New York is recognizing the diverse poets who have attended and taught at CUNY colleges and have earned the school the unofficial title of Poetry U. The University's poetic legacy encompasses past icons such as Audre Lorde, a Hunter College alumna who taught at three CUNY colleges, as well as two longtime CUNY faculty members who serve on the board of the prestigious Academy of American Poets, the organization which first launched this month of celebration in 1996.

"Whether in New York or our surrounding communities, it's almost certain that the person chosen to be that area's leading poet has a connection to CUNY," said CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. "Poetry can connect us all, and we are proud to be a University with a storied history of welcoming some of the nation's most talented poets. With so many options to choose from, we have faith that everyone will be able to find a poem that resonates with them and comes from a CUNY poet."

CUNY also counts eight current poets laureate including Borough of Manhattan Community College's student-poet Stephanie Pacheco, the 2023 New York City Youth Poet Laureate, and the first-ever New York State Youth Poet Laureate. This roster of revered poets also includes two recipients of the Pulitzer Prize. In 2015, Gregory Pardlo, then a Graduate Center doctoral candidate, received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for "Digest," a collection of poems focused on the meaning of American identity. Just two years later, Tyehimba Jess, a Distinguished Professor at theCollege of Staten Island, received the Pulitzer for "Olio," highlighting early Black musicians who were mostly unrecorded despite acting as trailblazers in numerous musical genres during the 19th century.

In honor of the month, the University will hold numerous events over the next four weeks. On April 10, Lehman College will host a public tournamentfor Dead Poets Rise, a game created by their professors Dave Schwittekand Anna Purvesto make poetry more accessible to people and leads to players creating their own poems.

The CUNY Graduate Center is celebrating recent and forthcoming poetry booksauthored by eight of its alumni, facultyand students. Among those featured is alumna Kendra Sullivan, who as the director of the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center oversees "Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative." The initiative tasks doctoral students with digging into personal and institutional archives to bring to light 20th century poetic works that have not been deeply studied and provide context for how these contributions came to fruition.

A Powerhouse of Poetry

In addition to the state youth poet laureate, CUNY has claim to the poets laureate of three New York City boroughs as well as Westchester County; Yonkers; Hempstead, Long Island; and Jersey City, New Jersey:

  • Staten Island selected BMCC English professor Marguerite Maria Rivasto serve as its first-ever poet laureate
  • Queens has in the role a lifelong resident of the borough, Maria Lisella, who graduated from both Queensborough Community College and Queens College
  • The Bronx Poet Laureate, Kay Bell, teaches at The City College of New York, where she previously earned two degrees after earning an associate degree from Hostos Community College
  • In Westchester County, BMCC alumna Phylisha Villanuevawas recently appointed to the countywide poet laureate role
  • BMCC professor Golda Solomonis the first to serve as poet laureate in the City of Yonkers
  • On Long Island, York College professor Lindamichelle Baronis the inaugural poet laureate for the Town of Hempstead
  • In New Jersey, CUNY Graduate Center alum Ann E. Wallaceis the Jersey City poet laureate

Similarly, the Academy of American Poets, the nation's leading champion of poets and poetry, last year selected two longtime CUNY Distinguished Professorsto its 15-member board of chancellors. The two educators, Queens College Distinguished Professor Kimiko Hahnand former College of Staten Island Distinguished Professor Patricia Smith, spoke about teaching the crafton "Café con Felo," the CUNY TV talk show hosted by Chancellor Matos Rodríguez.

Poetry U.

CUNY also serves as a training ground for up-and-coming poets, leading The New York Times to coin CUNY "Poetry U."Last year, the Institute of Museum and Library Services named Miles Hardingwood, a 12th-grade student at Hunter College High School, as the 2023 National Student Poet for the Northeast, allowing him the chance to recite a poem to First Lady Jill Biden at the White House.

Audre Lordewrote her first poem as a student at Hunter College High School. Lorde - who would go on to teach at Hunter, John Jay College and Lehman College - would become the New York State Poet Laureate and is regarded as one of the most influential poets of the late 20th century.

Melissa Castillo Planas, a professor at Lehman College and the CUNY Graduate Center, was a Gold Medal Winner of the Juan Felipe Herrera Best Poetry Book Award, International Latino Book Awards for her book, Chingona Rules. Hunter College Distinguished Professor Emeritus Tom Sleigh, who taught in and led the college's poetry writing program, earned the 2008 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, a prestigious honor and the world's largest monetary prize for a single collection of poetry.

Roger Sedarat, a Queens College poetry professor, earned the Tenth Gate Prize, a recognition for mid-career poets offered by The Word Works. Bronx Community College professor Grisel Acostawas a 2020 semifinalist for the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, which supports the publication of a Latinx poet's first full-length book of poems. Earning recognition in his own right, York College student Aryan Pershadhas his work featured by the New York Public Library in the first issue of its "Teen Voices" magazine.

At Brooklyn College, Distinguished Professor Ben Lerner is a Pulitzer Prize finalist who writes in multiple genres of poetry; his latest book, "The Lights," has been shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize for Excellence in Poetry. Baruch College Distinguished Professor Grace Schulman is a well-lauded poet who served as the poetry editor of the Nation and received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the New York Foundation of the Arts.

The City University of New Yorkis the nation's largest urban public university, a transformative engine of social mobility that is a critical component of the lifeblood of New York City. Founded in 1847 as the nation's first free public institution of higher education, CUNY today has seven community colleges, 11 senior colleges and seven graduate or professional institutions spread across New York City's five boroughs, serving more than 225,000 undergraduate and graduate students and awarding 50,000 degrees each year. CUNY's mix of quality and affordability propels almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all the Ivy League colleges combined. More than 80 percent of the University's graduates stay in New York, contributing to all aspects of the city's economic, civic and cultural life and diversifying the city's workforce in every sector. CUNY's graduates and faculty have received many prestigious honors, including 13 Nobel Prizes and 26 MacArthur "Genius" Grants. The University's historic mission continues to this day: provide a first-rate public education to all students, regardless of means or background. To learn more about CUNY, visit