History & Mission

The Palm Beach Poetry Festival is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering the writing, reading, performance, and appreciation of poetry – by presenting an annual festival and other poetry events in Palm Beach County – featuring America’s finest poets.

Our goal is to provide nationally recognized learning opportunities for writers of poetry and a world-class, life-enriching series of cultural events for our audiences. As a Florida nonprofit corporation, part of our mission is to organize educational outreach programs that bring the pleasures of poetry to our community. We are a proud member of the Palm Beach County Cultural Council.

The beginning of the festival was a collaborative effort between Mimi Coon, Carol and Alan Benjamin, and other friends in 2004. Some of the people who were involved in the early organizational days were Chris Bluemer, a local poet; Marya Summers, a local poet and journalist, the initial communications director and coordinator; and John Palozzi, President of Poets of the Palm Beaches. Along with The Poets of the Palm Beaches, the first festival was held at Lynn University in January of 2005. Four workshops were offered over one weekend. Audiences of up to 300 people attended readings by Patricia Smith, Thomas Lux, Sharon Olds, and Billy Collins! Campbell McGrath and Spencer Reece pitched in with wonderful introductions. All workshop seats were filled, and of the 48 workshop attendees, 75% traveled from out of state and as far away as Australia to attend the first festival. The success of the first festival led to establishing a nonprofit corporation. Palm Beach Poetry Festival, Inc., was founded in March of 2005.

The second annual festival was presented in January 2006 in partnership with Old School Square Cultural Arts Center (now Delray Beach Center for the Arts). Eight workshops were offered. Each workshop was 10 hours (up from five the year before) and of the eight workshops, two intermediate level sections were included, and a Florida Poets’ reading. Again, all workshop seats were sold, outreach programs engaged the local community. The second festival was a success thanks to featured poets Laure-Anne Bosselaar, winner of the Isabella Gardner Award; Kurt Brown, winner of the Custom Words Poetry Prize; Jane Hirshfield, winner of the Poetry Center Book Award; Tony Hoagland, winner of the James Laughlin Poetry Award; Galway Kinnell, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner; Thomas Lux, winner of the Kingsley-Tufts Poetry Award; Campbell McGrath, winner of the Kingsley-Tufts Poetry Award; Susan Mitchell, winner of the Kingsley-Tufts Poetry Award; Marilyn Nelson, Connecticut Poet Laureate; and Sharon Olds, former New York State Poet Laureate.

The Crest Theatre at Old School Square proved an intimate and comfortable setting for readings and craft talks, and the Vintage Gymnasium continues to be a wonderful space for the festival gala and late night performance event. Adding craft lectures by each faculty poet continues to delight workshop participants and the public alike. The classrooms, so bright and welcoming, are perfect for the workshops.

Morgan Stanley and the Palm Beach Post, as well as Clear-Channel Communications and Barnes and Noble were early sponsors who supported the festival’s mission along with other generous donors.  We have been generously sponsored by The Knight Foundation Arts Challenge Grant; The Muse Award from the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, grants from Visit Florida and The Tourist Development Council and Board of Commissioners of Palm Beach County. In addition, we have been supported by invaluable benefactors, and most recently, have received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for the 2015 festival. See all of our sponsors at https://www.palmbeachpoetryfestival.org/support-the-festival/give-now/.

In addition to our wonderful sponsors, our festival also partners with other non-profit organizations to present poetry programs all year round. We sponsor The Annual Palm Beach County High School Poetry Contest; offer public readings called Bards of a Feather Poetry Readings, and foster discussions at the Green Cay Nature Preserve. Our Community Outreach Program brings poetry to Alzheimer’s patients at the Sunrise Nursing Home, and we host a Haiku program annually at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. We also provide workshops led by talented local poets at the Delray Beach Center for the Arts.

The Palm Beach Poetry Festival has flourished for 11 years, presenting workshops with America’s most laurelled and engaging poets. Participants and auditors have hailed from over 24 States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Israel, Qatar, and Peru. We also host a special guest poet for readings and interviews. Some of our events combine poetry with other arts, including jazz (featuring Special Guest, former United States Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky), dance, photography, painting and sculpture.

The Palm Beach Poetry Festival continues this extraordinary legacy as one of the leading literary events in America.