Elizabeth Alexander

Poet Elizabeth Alexander Elected as new President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has elected poet and scholar Elizabeth Alexander as its new president. Succeeding Earl Lewis who has presided over as the foundation since 2013, her position takes effect from March this year.

Speaking about the foundation and about Elizabeth’s appointment, Danielle Allen, Chair of the Mellon Foundation Board said, “The Mellon Foundation is dedicated to the enrichment of the arts and humanities, both inside and outside colleges and universities; these practice areas are fundamental to strengthening not only our learning institutions, but also the human spirit.” Danielle added that, “Through her work as a professor and mentor, Elizabeth knows the academic system well, and as an architect of interdisciplinary programs, she has deep experience in cultivating partnerships that extend and amplify creative vision. A poet who brings an artist’s forward-looking energy to institutional purpose, Elizabeth is the right person for our times as the Foundation seeks to widen the community of stakeholders committed to the arts and humanities and to increase the resources dedicated to this work.”  

Speaking about her life, Elizabeth said, “I have lived my entire life with art, culture, and scholarship as companion, guide, and discipline.” About her new position, vision for the arts and the foundation, she added: “I am guided by the justice values of increasing access to the power of higher education to open and strengthen minds, encourage human exchange, and thus transform lives. I am deeply honored to have been selected to lead Mellon, an institution that has been devoted to these areas across its history, and to have been called to the crucial work of building community within and across discipline and institution. The humanities show us deeply who we are and what it means to move through life by the light of cultural vision. I am excited for the work ahead of elevating the truth, beauty and rigor of the arts and higher learning and making them more accessible to all.”

Born in 1962 in Harlem, New York, Elizabeth received a BA from Yale University in 1984, an MA from Boston University in 1987 and a PhD in English from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992. She has taught and held several academic positions in Yale University, Columbia University, Smith College, University of Chicago, New York University, Haverford College in the US. She has also been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

Currently serving on the Pulitzer Prize Board and as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Elizabeth has received numerous awards and fellowships including: the Anisfield-Wolf Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry, 2010; the inaugural Jackson Poetry Prize, 2007; the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, 2002; a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, 1992; three Pushcart Prizes for Poetry; Connecticut Book Award for Poetry, 2011; Illinois Arts Council Literary Award, 1993. She holds honorary doctorates from Haverford College, Simmons College, and the College of St. Benedict.

Elizabeth is the author of The Light of the World, a memoir published in 2015 by Grand Central Publishing. The Light of the World was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has published five (5) full-length poetry collections: Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010 (Graywolf Press, 2010); American Sublime (Graywolf Press, 2005), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Antebellum Dream Book (Graywolf Press, 2001); Body of Life (Tia Chucha Press, 1996); and The Venus Hottentot (University Press of Virginia, 1990). She is also author of two collections of essays: The Black Interior (Graywolf Press, 2004) and Power and Possibility: Essay, Reviews, Interviews (University of Michigan Press, Poets on Poetry Series, 2007).

At the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009, Elizabeth recited her poem titled, Praise Song for the Day.

In one of her poems, Elizabeth Alexander said, “Poetry is where we are ourselves.”