Jennifer Benka (MFA Creative Writing, ’07), Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets, always dreamed of obtaining an advanced degree, but with a full time job, finding a program that fit her specific needs wasn’t easy. That is, until she found The New School.
“I had a great job in the literary field, so I wasn’t willing to relocate from New York City,” says Benka, who was working as the Managing Director of Poets & Writers at the time. “The New School was the most open to someone like me—someone who was older and working full time. Being able to keep my job while attending a graduate program was essential for me financially and important to me philosophically."Benka is the author of two books of poetry, A Box of Longing with 50 Drawers: A Revisiting of the Preamble to the Constitution (Soft Skull Press, 2005) and Pinko (Hanging Loose Press, 2011), which she says contains many of the poems she wrote during her time in the Creative Writing Program with guidance from her thesis advisor, Mark Bibbins. She is passionate about her writing and believes, “there are things that we can explore in art, and uniquely in poetry—because it is art made of language—that are essential to maintaining democracy.”In her role as the Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets, Benka keeps the poets she serves at the heart of her work and is dedicated to shining a light on their poetry throughout the United States and around the world.“Poets provide the words that help us understand our lives, history, and location in the world; they test and reimagine syntax; they move us beyond the noise of the everyday,” says Benka. “When we read a poem, we’re engaging with an art object made of language, which enables our mind and memory to wrap around it in a way that a mind can’t wrap around a painting on canvas. Poetry opens people up.”