Poetry Magazine Announces $100 Million Gift From Eli Lilly Heir

Poetry Magazine Announces $100 Million Gift From Eli Lilly Heir

Poetry magazine will receive more than $100 million over the next thirty years from Ruth Lilly, the last surviving great-grandchild of the founder of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co., the Chicago Tribune reports.

The Modern Poetry Association, the publisher of Poetry, will use the funds to expand its educational programs, create seminars to help teachers teach poetry in middle schools and high schools nationwide, offer more grants and fellowships, and publish more books. The organization also plans to move to bigger headquarters and find public space for its thousands of books of poetry currently in storage. Because the association is receiving such a large sum of money from a single source source, it will become a private operating foundation to comply with tax laws and will change its name to the Poetry Foundation. The exact amount of the gift has not been determined because Lilly's wealth is closely tied to the company's stock price, but association officials expect the first payment in January to be about $10 million. Conservative estimates put the value of the entire gift at about $100 million, although it could end up as high as $150 million.

Poetry, which has about 10,000 subscribers, has struggled to survive financially since its founding in 1912. Even though it often has had less than $100 in the bank, the publication has never missed an issue and can claim to have printed important early work by the likes of Carl Sandburg, T.S. Eliot, and Wallace Stevens. Lilly, who is 87, began writing poetry herself in the 1930s and has had her work rejected by the magazine on several occasions. She has remained loyal to it, however, establishing its Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which now comes with a $100,000 cash award, in 1986 and sponsoring two annual poetry fellowships through the magazine.

"It is probably an unprecedented gift to a literary publication. It's a wonderful and good thing, unambiguously good, that Mrs. Lilly has done," said Billy Collins, the U.S. poet laureate. "The only thing I am sure of is that when the news breaks, it will draw a lot of good attention to the magazine and poetry itself. It reminds me of my father, a New York businessman, not being too impressed by my poetry writing. Then I got a $25,000 grant from the [National Endowment for the Arts], and he started taking poetry seriously."

James Warren. "A Billionaire's Ode to Charity: $100 Million to Poetry Journal." Chicago Tribune 11/18/2002.