Dale Davis


My career as a writer, educator, publisher, scholar, producer, dramaturge, and advocate for youth and those incarcerated began in the 1970’s as one of the founding poets of New York State Poets In The Schools. In 1979, I founded The New York State Literary Center (NYSLC) https://www.nyslc.org/ where I serve as Executive Director. I founded NYSLC based upon what I learned working as a poet in K-12 classrooms. My goal was to create project-based programs with artists and writers whose work educated. Among the writers, editors, and artists who have worked with me in NYSLC’s programs since 1979 are Lemon Andersen, Homero Aridjis, Hakim Bellamy, William Bronk, Kenneth Burke, Ted Canning, Robert Creeley, Malcolm Cowley, Robert Duncan, Robert Fitzgerald, Kamilah Forbes, Jonathan Galassi, William Gratwick, Hugh Kenner, Ted Kooser, James Laughlin, Ruth Maleczech, Emir Rodriguez Monegal, Octavio Paz, David Shakes, William Stafford, Carrie Mae Weems, Eliot Weinberger, and Jonathan Williams.

NYSLC started The Communication Project in 1995 for adolescents with severe learning, behavioral, social, and emotional needs. The Communication Project’s programs took place in residential placement, juvenile detention, day treatment, and long-term suspension programs. NYSLC’s focus on those whose lives are impacted by incarceration began in 2005 as a direct outgrowth of The Communication Project.

Toni Morrison once stated she wrote Sula and The Bluest Eye because they were books she wanted to read. No one had written them. NYSLC began to publish books of students’ writing in the 1980’s. The first publication in Xochitl in cuicatl contained poems written by fifth graders as part of NYSLC’s Latin America curriculum that focused on Latin America in relation to and through its literature. NYSLC has published over 600 books of writing by students in its programs and 30 children’s books written by incarcerated youth. NYSLC has, also, produced 30 CD’s. Fifteen plays I adapted from the writing of students have been integral parts of NYSLC programs. The plays have been performed in high schools across New York State and nationally in juvenile justice facilities and correctional facilities.

In 1983, a NYSLC program that featured high school students performing William Carlos Williams’ “Hymn for Rogation Sunday” set to music by Thomas Canning was featured at the William Carlos Williams Centennial at the Harvard Club in New York for the Modern Language Association. In 1986 the premiere performance of William Carlos Williams’ play “Tituba’s Children” was performed as part of a NYSLC high school program. In 1992, NYSLC’s AIDS ‘N US, a peer directed high school AIDS education project, received national recognition from The Center for Disease Control National AIDS Clearinghouse. NYSLC’s programs have been the subject of articles in New York Magazine and The New York Times and have been recognized by The President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities, the American Council on The Arts, The National Alternative Education Association, The National Dropout Prevention Association, the Annenberg School of Communication, Arts In Criminal Justice, and a documentary by Columbia University’s EdLab. NYSLC was featured in a cover story in Leadership, published by the Points of Light Foundation, and was the subject of “Fighting The Streets with Art and Literature” in Education New York.

NYSLC collaborated with an on line service for journalists to inform the public about issues important to high risk youth. The service’s website cited NYSLC as an example of the type of project for youth at-risk that was promoted by The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Students’ writing was featured on their website, both as a hook for journalists and as an example of how to write a story. Installations I created combining the writing of youth in NYSLC’s programs with my photographs have been exhibited in Rochester, Saratoga, and New York City.

In 1999, I was a participant in Harvard University’s Institute on The Arts and Civic Dialogue, established by playwright and actor Anna Deavere Smith. In 2005 my work with youth in the juvenile justice system in St. Louis was the subject of a Fox News Documentary. In 2014, I received the Andrew P. Meloni Award from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office for dedication and commitment to improve the education of those incarcerated through NYSLC’s arts, education, and rehabilitation programs.

I have lectured and conducted teacher education programs in Alaska, Hawaii, Portland, Seattle, the Mississippi Delta, and throughout the country. I served as a consultant to The Children’s Dignity Project, ABC Network. I  have written and presented papers on my work with young people at state and national conferences and was a member of College Board’s National Task Force on the Arts In Education. I was invited to chair a panel on employing arts learning with underserved populations to foster cultural understanding and unleash students’ creativity to prepare students to tackle today’s pressing issues at the College Board’s National Forum, Education and The American Future. I have served as a panelist for Massachusetts Cultural Council’s first Creative Teaching Fellowships Program and as both an Education Panelist and Literature Panelist for The New York State Council on The Arts.

As a publisher in the early 1980’s I founded The Sigma Foundation, a limited edition, private press, with Dr. James Sibley Watson, Jr., an avant-garde filmmaker and publisher and editor of The Dial magazine, the leading modernist journal of arts and letters. The Sigma Foundation published the writing of Margaret Anderson, Mina Loy, and Djuna Barnes. The Sigma Foundation’s books are in many permanent collections, including The Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Library, Yale University and The Collection of American Women at Smith College.

In 1996, I was one of the founders of Association of Teaching Artists (ATA), now the oldest professional organization serving Teaching Artists in the country. I served as Board President, and from 2006 to 2018 I served as ATA’s first Executive Director. In 2002 I initiated ATA’s Distinguished Service to the Field Award, the 1st award in New York State in the arts education field. In 2011 I convened  the first National Teaching Artists Forum in New York City, and in 2012 I initiated ATA’s Teaching Artist Appreciation Week to celebrate the work of individual Teaching Artists. In 2019, ATA presented me with its Distinguished Service to The Field Award.

My writing has appeared in publications from The Iowa Review to the Op-Ed page of The New York Times. Publications also include a book of poetry, For You From Me, chapters in Unseen Cinema and Classics In The Classroom. I am presently working on two books, fragments from teaching and Notes in Passing.