Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Maria Mazziotti Gillan and The Poetry Center at PCCC

In 1980, Maria Mazziotti Gillan founded The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College as a way of honoring the city's legacy as the birthplace of two legendary poets, Allen Ginsberg and William Carlos Williams.

An acclaimed poet herself, the Center sponsors readings and workshops that draw major poets like Maxine Kumin, Billy Collins, Sharon Olds, Mark Doty, Diane di Prima, the late Stanley Kunitz and even Allen Ginsberg before he died in 1997.

Poetry is only part of Gillan's plan to help turn an ailing industrial city that is still filled with poor immigrants like her own parents, into a cultural hub for the county and state. As the cultural affairs director for Passaic County, she and her staff are able to offer grants in support of  the arts, history and culture.

Maria's office and the Cultural Affairs Department  is housed in the historic Hamilton Club Building, which was established in 1897 as a gentleman's club and purchased and refurbished by Passaic County Community College in 1995. The Cultural Affairs Department is comprised of the nationally renowned Poetry Center, the Theater and Poetry Project, the PCCC Art Galleries and the Passaic County Cultural & Heritage Council.

But poetry has always had a special place for Maria.

"There was nothing here when I was a kid. We never even went to a play. And one of the things I noticed when I was an adult was that there was still nothing here. When I first started the Poetry Center, people said, ´No one´s going to come to Paterson,´ but we have had poets from all over the country, from all over the world, come here, They need to come here, to a place that´s more alive than the suburbs. It´s exciting. It's electric."

The Poetry Center offers literary awards and contest that garner submissions from throughout the country in fiction, books for young people and poetry. Workshops for the public are held regularly featuring distinguished poets who come to the Center and offer readings of their work.

Maria Gillan also edits the annual Paterson Literary Review and oversees the Center's poetry contests, readings and workshops in the Paterson and area schools.

Of the Poetry Center, poet Laura Boss has said that is is "“New Jersey’s 92nd Street Y.  It is a beehive of readings, workshops, literary publications, and contests, and Maria Mazziotti Gillan is its queen bee, whose vision and dedication created it.”