Milwaukee native named director of Academy of American Poets
Former Milwaukeean and Marquette University graduate Jennifer Benka was recently named the executive director of the Academy of American Poets.
Benka, who Milwaukeeans might also remember from the band Mook, will move to New York City from San Francisco, where she has been serving as the national director of development and marketing for 826 National. Prior to her work with 826 National, a network of writing and tutoring centers, Benka worked for nearly a decade in New York City as the managing director of Poets & Writers magazine.
"I'm honored to lead the Academy and to work with poets, readers and educators to deepen our engagement with an art form that speaks to the human experience like no other," says Benka.
Benka will assume her new role on July 16.
OnMilwaukee.com recently interviewed Benka to find out more about her new position.
OnMilwaukee.com: What about this new job appeals to you?
Jennifer Benka: The organization has an incredible history of innovating ways to support poets and promote poetry in the United States – from producing National Poetry Month every April to the extremely popular Poets.org to inspired live events. Established in 1936, the Academy of American Poets is a key source and keeper of information about poetry in our country.
OMC: Are you nervous? Excited? How will this position be different from what you were doing at 826?
JB: I am full of anticipation! At 826 National I oversaw development and marketing efforts with a special focus on initiating and building relationships with major corporate and foundation supporters. I also helped think about how the organization, which focuses on youth writing, could bring the arts to the national discussion of students needing more training in science, technology, engineering, and math. 826 is student, not poet focused, though there are many budding poets at 826 like Yessica, a middle school student in San Francisco, who wrote: "Excitement is like / a visit to another planet covered with / melty, strawberry ice cream / ruled by big and hairy monsters you have never seen / with black bugs and creepy worms crawling on them."
At the Academy, I'll be providing leadership, strategy and management for the organization's programs and operations, working closely with the energetic staff and Board members. First up is the Poets Forum in October, which is a series of events exploring contemporary poetry in America.
OMC: How do you feel about moving back to New York? What will you miss about San Francisco?
JB: I can't wait to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. There's just nothing quite like New York. That said, it has been a privilege to live in the Bay Area. As a native Midwesterner it took me a while to get used to the hills, but being in the center of the tech universe and having had the chance to work at a start-up has been extremely educational. Most importantly, it has been deeply meaningful to be a part of the Bay Area poetry community, which is rich and varied with the LGBT reading series RADAR, the ever-provocative organization Small Press Traffic, and the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University. I will miss the poets here, and the wide sky.
OMC: What's your latest poetry publication? Any musical endeavors? I still have a Mook CD.
JB: My second collection of poems, "Pinko," came out earlier this year with Hanging Loose Press.
And over the past year I've been photographing poems.
Ah, Mook. You are kind to have held on to that album. I have given a few one-off musical performances over the past several years, but I'm afraid my band days have likely passed me by.
OMC: Anything you want to say to Milwaukee?
JB: Go to Woodland Pattern!
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