Who Says Poetry Doesn't Pay? The Poetry Foundation Names Its 2015 Fellows

Poet Robert Graves once said, "There's no money in poetry, but there's no poetry in money, either." 

And while we tend to agree with Graves' assessment, every now and then we stumble across an exception to the rule.

For example, the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation just announced the five recipients of the 2015 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships: Nate Marshall, Erika L. Sánchez, Danniel Schoonebeek, Safiya Sinclair, and Jamila Woods. 

What's more, the winners netted $25,800 a piece—a development characterized by the New York Times as "unusually lucrative good news." Given the fact such bountiful poetry prizes don't come along all too often, we figured both the prize and the Poetry Foundation itself was worth a closer look.  

Let's start with the prize.  

Philanthropist Ruth Lilly established the Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship program back in 1989. For the next six years, university writing programs nominated one student for a single fellowship. From 1996 to 2007, the program doubled the number of fellowships offered. In 2008, the number of fellowships rose to five, totaling $75,000 and competition was opened to all U.S. poets between 21 and 31 years of age. Then, in 2013, came a gift from the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Fund to create the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships, which increased the fellowship amount from $15,000 to $25,800. 

As for the Poetry Foundation itself, it traces its roots back to 1941 with the Modern Poetry Association, which was founded to support the publication of Poetry magazine. In 2003, the association morphed into the Poetry Foundation upon receipt of a major gift from Lilly, which has since enabled the foundation to establish an endowment and expand the presence of poetry in the U.S.  

Which brings us back to the 2015 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships. According to the foundation, the $25,800 prize is among the largest awards offered to young poets in the United States. The foundation also supports living U.S. poets whose lifetime accomplishments deserve recognition through its Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. At a cool $100,000, the prize is one of the largest literary honors for work in the English language.