Poetry reading is up in America, but there’s still more work to be done to sustain readers
According to research from the National Endowment for the Arts, poetry readership is on the rise. A staggering 28 million adults read poetry last year, per the NEA’s Survey of Public Participation in the Arts which places this number as the highest it has ever been in the last 15 years of conducting the survey.
Of note, the rate of reading for 18-24 year olds has doubled from 8.2% in 2002 to 17.5% in 2017, and women came in at 14.5% up from 8% in 2002, also accounting for 60% of all poetry readers, making them a dominant demographic. Black readership of poetry increased the most among racial/ethnic groups, measuring 15.3%, which is up from 6.9% in 2012.
Some sources attribute the growth of poetry readership to technology that has made poetry much more accessible for a population increasingly on the go. Amy Stolls, the NEA’s Director of Literature says, “These increases definitely reflect what we’ve been witnessing over in our corner of the office… I suspect social media has had an influence, as well as other robust outreach activities and efforts, many of which we support through our grants to publishers and presenters, fellowships to individual poets, Poetry Out Loud, and the NEA Big Read.”
NEA Big Read, much like the National Book Foundation’s program BookUp, which is also sponsored by the NEA, is a program that sponsors community reading events and seeks to generate interest and excitement in reading. The effects of programs like these and Poetry Out Loud, which seeks to get children involved in reading and reciting poetry, on the nation’s poetry reading numbers cannot be understated. It is vital to any population to create and sustain readers, especially young readers. Once a reader is created, they usually maintain a love of literature and books throughout their lives.
However, there is also research from the Pew Research Center which suggests that adults with an annual income of less than $30K are about three times less likely to be readers than those who have more income, which makes programs like BookUp even more valuable. Their aim is to go into more underserved areas and introduce elementary and middle school children to exciting books to create an interest in reading. The 2016 survey also discovered that Latinx people, older adults, those living in households reporting under $30K a year, and those who either have a high school diploma or did not finish high school are the most likely groups to report that they have never even been to a public library.
While the NEA’s poetry numbers look good, there is plenty of work that needs to be done to increase readership across a number of demographics. Hopefully additional research soon to be released by the NEA will provide insights as to how to accomplish this mission.