In 1946, Mrs. Fred Armstrong saw the need to establish “a facility for writers as a means for stimulating the writing of poetry.” She became the Poetry Center’s first Chairman. Having continued since Mrs. Armstrong’s visionary inception, the organization is the oldest poetry center of its kind west of the Mississippi River. The first meetings were held on Sundays at the downtown Public Library. During the early days, writers attending included Tennessee Williams and William Inge, poets who would become luminaries! Eventually, the Poetry Center relocated from the downtown Public Library to Bishop Tuttle Memorial in the renowned Christ Church Cathedral. Then, in October, 1974, the Center moved again, to Clayton Federal Savings Bank in Webster Groves, 11 E. Lockwood, where monthly workshops were held (on the second floor) “at no expense to the Center.”
The first concert, now an annual reading of each year’s contest-winning poems, was held in 1960 at the Garden Club’s new building in Shaw’s Garden, now the Missouri Botanical Garden. Then in 1963, the St. Louis Poetry Center was incorporated with the assistance of the Center’s then-attorney, Mr. William Armstrong. The organization had two Boards: a Board of Directors for Center Administration, and a Board of Chancellors, “to act as advisors in literary matters.” Today’s St. Louis Poetry Center retains only the Board of Directors, volunteers who oversee the organization, its readings, outreach programs, workshops and annual contests.
Some of the long-term members of the center are successful poets and artists, including Loy Ledbetter (president emeritus), Gaye Gambell-Peterson, Rebecca Ellis, Robert Nazarene, Lucy Hazelton, Eamonn Wall, Smurfit-Stone Corporation Professor of Irish Studies and Professor of English at UM-St. Louis, Marlene Miller, Sally Van Doren, Michael Castro, David Clewell, Steven Schreiner, the late Ed Boccia, and the late Beverly Hopkins, after whom the high school contest is named. Many other St. Louis poets, professors, writers and lovers of poetry are members of The St. Louis Poetry Center.
The St. Louis Poetry Center continues its tradition of free workshops from September through April on the second Sunday of each month. They are currently held at the University City Library. In addition, the Poetry Center has grown to offer a number of significant outreach programs, fee workshops and three popular, curated reading series: Poetry at the Point, Observable Readings and Second Friday Notes. Since 1960, the month of May presents the annual Poetry Concert, a reading of the prize-winning poetry of the year’s contests, which are free and open to all. The St. Louis Poetry Center membership is open to all, and most events are free and open to the public. The Poetry Center relies on its members to help fund these important and enriching programs. To become a member, please click here.