Digital Preservation and Dissemination of Threatened 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center Audio Archives

Material Description

Since its founding in 1939, the Poetry Center has been visited (often repeatedly) by luminary poets, novelists, playwrights, literary critics, biographers, and scholars from a multitude of literary traditions. The tape-based audio archive of the Unterberg Poetry Center, which dates back to 1949, constitutes one of the world's richest documentary sources of readings by and discussions with authors from every literary genre. The speakers featured in Poetry Center audio recordings render the collection a truly unique historical resource. Threatened audio files date from 1972-1986 and include over 300 event recordings. Among the many distinguished writers are a diverse array of celebrated poets, novelists, playwrights, critics, cultural commentators and journalists from around the world and at varying stages of their careers. They include Elizabeth Bishop, Pablo Neruda, John Ashbery, W. S. Merwin, Adrienne Rich, Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott, Joseph Brodsky, Octavio Paz, V. S. Naipaul, Cynthia Ozick, Mary McCarthy, Toni Morrison, Katherine Anne Porter, Italo Calvino, Susan Sontag, Studs Terkel, Daniel Ellsberg, Kurt Vonnegut, Jorge Luis Borges, Jules Feiffer, Nadine Gordimer, E. L. Doctorow, Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter, Umberto Eco, Doris Lessing, John Cheever, Alice Munro, Grace Paley and Eudora Welty. The exceptional value of this collection is further enhanced by its capture of the spontaneous remarks of speakers afforded by their formal conversation with fellow speakers, informal commentary, personal reminiscences, and interaction with audience members, as 92Y has historically been known as much for its illustrious speakers as for the intelligent, responsive audiences it attracts. In response to the great degree of recent interest in 92Y's recordings from scholars, educators, media producers, and the general public alike, 92Y has been focusing particular attention on the preservation and accessibility of this important segment of its Archives.


Since 1939, 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center has long been recognized as one of the world's leading literary centers. The tape-based audio archive of the Poetry Center dates back to 1949, and while the Center has been able to undertake digitization of select recordings in part due to funding from the National Endowment for the Arts Save America's Treasures grant, approximately 356 threatened recordings remain. The speakers featured in 92Y's collection of Poetry Center audio recordings render the collection a truly unique historical resource. While there are numerous venues that host lecture series and readings, few if any can match the historical breadth and depth of those hosted by 92Y, and the dedication of 92Y to celebrate and promote figures from every humanities field is unparalleled. Funding would ensure the long-term preservation of this invaluable collection and facilitate dramatically increased access to the collection.


Digitizing Hidden Collections

Amount Awarded


Year Added



92nd Street (92Y)


  • Mr. Bernard Schwartz (92nd Street Y)
  • Mr. Eric Appell

Date Range

1972 - 1986

Geographic Scope

The endangered recordings of 1972 to 1986 underscore the Poetry Center's longstanding commitment to literature in translation and cross-cultural exchange. A sampling of International authors who read at 92Y during this period include Pablo Neruda, Nadine Gordimer, Gunter Grass, Margaret Atwood, IB Singer, Nathalie Sarraute, Czeslaw Milosz, Jorge Luis Borges.


  • 535 Audio Recordings