Campus: San Francisco State University -- February 25, 2004

Poetry Center: 50 years of literary history at San Francisco State University

Legend has it that on Feb. 21, 1954, Theodore Roethke stepped onto the SF State campus and stated, "These poems are part of a spiritual history," before reciting several of his works. Little did he know his words that day would mark the beginning of one of the most long-lived, prestigious and nationally renowned literary arts institutions in the United States.

The Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives [] is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, starting Saturday, Feb. 21, with readings by Adrienne Rich, Ishmael Reed, Robin Blaser, Etel Adnan and SF State alumnus Michael McClure in Knuth Hall of the Creative Arts building..

The public archives hold more than 2,000 audio and videotapes of writers performing their own works, dating to the Beat era. Luminaries who have read at Poetry Center events and are included in its archives include Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsburg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Amy Tan, Salman Rushdie, Louise Glück and Alice Walker.

"From the beginning, the Poetry Center continued the internationalization of San Francisco as a major literary center," McClure said in a recent edition of the San Francisco Chronicle.

The center hosts 25 to 30 public poetry readings and events each year featuring a diverse range of artists from around the world. SF State Professor Ruth Witt-Diamant founded the center, with encouragement from her friend Dylan Thomas and a gift from the great English poet W.H. Auden. California Poets in the Schools, a landmark outreach program that has introduced creative writing to half a million youth, was founded at The Poetry Center in 1964.

Other events to celebrate the 50th anniversary include an April 17 poetry festival at the Unitarian Center in San Francisco, and an original exhibit focused on 50 years of art and poetry interaction in the Bay Area opening in November at the California Historical Society museum in San Francisco.

Contact: Matt Itelson,, (415) 338-1743

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