CU People: William Wadsworth, Director of Academic Administration in the Writing Program

December 23, 2016

Photo by John Pinderhughes


Director of Academic Administration in the Writing Program and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Writing

Years at Columbia


What He Does

Wadsworth, an essayist and poet, is the lead administrator of all School of the Arts Writing Program activities, including the Graduate and Undergraduate Creative Writing Programs, its Summer School and Global Programs. He supervises a staff of three full-time administrators and 12 student interns, and, in conjunction with the Dean’s Office and the faculty, oversees the program’s annual budget, financial aid and admissions, course planning and registration, events, the program’s website, and ancillary programs

In 2009-2010, he was instrumental, with Writing Professor Binnie Kirshenbaum, in creating a new curriculum, “Literary Translation at Columbia,” and the “Word for Word” international exchange program.

“If you’re going to make a difference, administration must become a creative vocation,” he noted. In addition to his administrative duties, he teaches two graduate courses, a seminar on poetry for prose writers, and a course called “Rewriting Shakespeare.”

Road to Columbia

Wadsworth graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he wrote poetry, studied English literature, and was deeply involved in the anti-war movement of the 1960s. It was there that he met his first mentor, the English poet George Barker, whom Allen Ginsberg credited with “bringing the Beat vision to America.” Wadsworth moved to England to live with Barker and his family, and subsequently with friends of Barker, including Dylan Thomas’s widow, Caitlin, in Rome: “Those years were my real education in the life of poetry.”

Wadsworth eventually moved to Vermont to live in an artist’s community called the Prickly Mountain Project. Several well-known writers were associated with the community, including Richard Ford, who is now a writing professor at Columbia. In 1980, Wadsworth started a wine business, then moved to New York to enroll in Columbia’s Writing Program, studying poetry with Joseph Brodsky and Richard Howard and earning his MFA in 1987. “I’ve never been happier as a writer than when I was as a student here. What the cafes of Paris were to writers in the 1920s, the Writing Program is now.”

In 1989, on Brodsky’s recommendation, Wadsworth was appointed executive director of the Academy of American Poets, where he focused primarily on new approaches to audience development. During his 12-year tenure, the Academy founded the first national reading series, the first major poetry website (, launched in 1994), and the now popular and well-established National Poetry Month.

In 2002, after departing the Academy, Wadsworth became an administrator of the Joseph Brodsky Memorial Fellowship Fund and began teaching at the New School, at SUNY Purchase, and eventually at Columbia, where he was appointed the Writing Program’s DAA in 2008: “I came full circle.”

Most Memorable Moment

Watching the 2008 inauguration of President Obama (CC’83) on a Jumbotron from the steps of Low Library. “To share that extraordinary high point in history with so many members of our community was electrifying.”

In His Spare Time

Wadsworth’s work has appeared in many publications, including The New Republic, The Paris Review, and in various anthologies, including the Library of America’s Anthology of American Religious Poems, edited by Harold Bloom. A collection of his poems, The Physicist on a Cold Night Explains was published in 2010. “I don’t ever lack for things to do outside of work hours.” He said, “I’m never bored.”

—By Gary Shapiro