Puerto Rico Is Calling to Pulitzer Prize–Nominated Poet Elizabeth Alexander

And she can’t help but listen. The poet who read at President Obama’s inauguration is now heading up an arts foundation, and she’s traveling to connect with the creators they support.

Puerto Rico coast

Elizabeth Alexander is looking forward to working with Puerto Rican artists this year.

Photo by Michael Runkel/age fotostock

Revenge travel is out (in fact, it never really felt “in” to us). Instead, this year we’re all about reconnection travel, which is proving to be the top reason for travel postpandemic. After a tough few years, people are going out into the world again with real excitement—and purpose. So we interviewed 11 globe-trotting celebrities to find out what “reconnection” means to them, whether that’s hitting the road solo, feasting through Italy, gallivanting with old friends, paying tribute to loved ones who’ve passed, or making an all-important visit to mom.

Elizabeth Alexander has a lot of weight behind her name—she’s president of the arts-culture-and humanities-focused Mellon Foundation, a Pulitzer Prize–nominated poet, a former professor at Yale and Columbia, and a reader at President Obama’s 2009 inauguration. But she says her goal for this year is to put the spotlight on artists and creators in the place she’s visiting next: Puerto Rico.

Elizabeth Alexander is focused on supporting other artists.

Elizabeth Alexander is focused on supporting other artists.

Photo by Sharif Hamza

What place is calling you back? Why?

The place that continues to call me back with its gorgeous archipelago, remarkable history, rich cultural traditions, and dynamic artistic practices is Puerto Rico. There is an innate cultural power I sense as soon as I step off the plane in San Juan, and is also conveyed so potently by the diaspora where I live, in New York City.

What place feels like home, even if it’s not where you’re from? Why?

Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican culture was very important to my Harlem-born family when I was growing up, forming the heart of many special family trips and cultural affinities. Puerto Rico was especially important to my beloved father, who passed away in July. I am not from the archipelago, but whenever I travel there it speaks to me as one who is returning, not one who is simply visiting.

Are you planning trips to reconnect? If so, how?

This spring I’m traveling to Puerto Rico with my Mellon Foundation colleagues so we can meet with many of the organizations we fund and learn from—including universities, libraries, home art spaces—as well as to attend the first-ever convening of Puerto Rican writers from throughout the archipelago and the diaspora. The organizations Mellon supports in the islands historically have been severely underfunded. I’m proud we are doing our part to strengthen and celebrate Puerto Rico’s vibrant ecosystem of the arts, culture, and humanities.

—Elizabeth Alexander, Pulitzer Prize–nominated poet, former Yale and Columbia professor, and current president of the Mellon Foundation. Her latest book is The Trayvon Generation (Grand Central Publishing, 2022).

Read more from our Reconnection Travel series.

Kaitlin Menza is a Taipei-based writer who covers lifestyle, politics, pop culture, and social issues. You can find her work at kaitlinmenza.com.
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