In half a decade, the number of U.S. adults who are reading poetry has nearly doubled.
That’s according to the results of a new survey by the National Endowment for the Arts, which announced Thursday that “as a share of the total U.S. adult population, this poetry readership is the highest on record over a 15-year period.”
The Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, a collaboration between the NEA and the Census Bureau, found that 11.7 percent of the U.S. adult population in 2017 — or about 28 million people — had read poetry in the last year. Which admittedly may not seem like much on the surface — until it’s compared with the 6.7 percent found during the last survey period, in 2012.
To find a comparable interest in poetry, you have to reach back to 2002, when the number of adults reading poetry narrowly cleared the 12 percent threshold.
The survey showed sharp increases in readership across the board — but especially among women, minorities and adults with only some college education.
“These increases definitely reflect what we’ve been witnessing over in our corner of the office,” NEA’s director of literature, Amy Stolls, said in revealing the results.
“I suspect social media has had an influence, as well as other robust outreach activities and efforts,” she added, referring to many of the agency’s programs and fellowships to boost readers and writers.
Whatever the reason may be, the bottom line spells positive things for poets and their readers, who have been fairly starved for this kind of good news of late. As Quartz notes, prior to 2017, “the portion of the total population reading poetry had been in steady decline since 1992.”
And there’s more to come: The NEA promised to unveil full results from the survey “over the next several months.”