If you haven’t heard this story before, it’s a good one: in 2002, Ruth Lilly, an heir to a fortune built by Indianapolis pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, donated $200 million to Poetry magazine, which at the time was a modest literary publication with a circulation of 10,000 and an annual budget of $700,000. The Chicago Tribune tells the fascinating story of how this enormous gift changed the game for poetry publishing.
Today, the foundation has a budget of more than $6 million. The magazine gets $1.5 million a year, and $2.2 million goes to educational programs. Poetry’s website alone receives a hefty $1.2 million, a point of contention in literary circles. Then there’s $1.3 million for administrative costs, including salaries for the 20-person staff. “We have a guideline that forces us to never spend more than 5 percent (annually) of the total market value of the endowment,” said John Barr, president of the Poetry Foundation.
How much has this helped? By some accounts, a great deal: circulation at the magazine is up to 26,000, and last spring the magazine won a National Magazine Award over favorites like the Paris Review. At the same time, more money, more problems: Barr has met with a huge amount of criticism for overspending and other management issues aside: