Text, photos and video by REBECCA SANCHEZ
Nearly everyday for over two decades Donald Green has written and sold his poetry on bustling streets and in crowded Subway tunnels to a fan base of fleeting New York City commuters. Having worked in the Columbia University Butler Library for several years and feeling like his productivity as a poet was being stifled, he quit his job to join the ranks of James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, and Maya Angelou—a few of his most admired poets.
“James Baldwin had his first article in the New Yorker when he was 27,” he said. “I met him once. I met Amiri Baraka too, before he was famous. James Baldwin was famous. He became so famous. “
His original poem, “Hope,” was reprinted for the first time on January 2, 2000, in a Bruce Weber article for the New York Times. The publication became the crux of Donald’s identity, and he began referring to himself solely as “The NY Times Published Poet.”
“I was right there in that newspaper article,” Donald recalled. “My name just above Barbra Streisand! And you know Barbra reads the NY Times—especially if she’s in it—so she must have seen my name!”
Donald has been searching for a return to the public eye and international literary fame since his poem’s appearance in the Times over 13 years ago. He says this summer will be his last as The New York Times Published Poet—feeling like the years have worn him down, he says he plans to leave the streets for a more peaceful work space, in the hopes of someday completing a manuscript for a novel.
“I’ve been working—Monday, Tuesday I was here, Wednesday—tomorrow I have to rest,” he said. “I need to rest, you know? I feel, as a writer, I need to be more fulfilled. I’m not 25 anymore… I won’t be doing this anymore for long.”