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City of Paterson Inspires New Book
by PCCC Professor and Poetry Center Director

Posted October 9, 2017

Paterson Light and Shadow (Serving House Books, 2017) tells stories in poetry and photography about Paterson, New Jersey, with poems by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Director of the Poetry Center at PCCC and fine art photos by PCCC English professor Mark Hillringhouse, who is also a professional photographer.

Published last spring, the 90-page book is a collaboration of two artists who have spent a lifetime living, working, and creating in Paterson, a city that has provided continuing inspiration for both of them.

Professor Hillringhouse’s award-winning black and white Paterson photographs accompany each poem and resonate with the mood and feeling of Ms. Gillan’s writings about the city.  A wistful image of an empty classic-style diner captures the mournful tone of the poem Jersey Diners with its lament, “All the Jersey diners have vanished,” a reflection on the passing of time and inevitable sense of loss.

This collection contains over 30 poems and 30 photographs that explore this once great industrial city, envisioned by Alexander Hamilton as the birthplace of manufacturing in a new nation, a city now home to countless immigrants who still struggle to build lives and survive.

Taken over a period of 20 years, the images of abandoned factories, deteriorating properties, and other urban decay contrast with those of stately government buildings, the majestic Great Falls, and people going about their business, illustrating the contradictions common in once great cities now facing urban decay, yet still stirring with the energy of nature and newcomers.

With poems entitled “In the City of Dreams: Paterson, NJ,” “The River at Dusk,” and “All His Life My Father Worked in Factories,” Ms. Gillan’s work evokes the aspirations, struggles, and ordinariness of day-to-day life among early 20th century immigrants who pursued the American Dream, sometimes painfully, in the working class neighborhoods and industries of Paterson.

Reviewing the book for the Washington Independent Review of Books, Grace Cavalieri calls it
“A multidimensional emotional experience of lasting value….Every page is exhilaration, bringing an American city from the margins to the center of our culture.”

New Jersey poet Adele Kenny comments, “The poems and images in this book inform one another with a special tenderness that speaks of identity—both personal and geographic.”

A book signing party is planned for November 30 from 3:00 – 5:00 pm at PCCC’s Hamilton Club, home of the Poetry Center,  32 Church Street in Paterson. Watch here for details.

Photo: Joe Costa

Maria Mazziotti Gillan is the award-winning author of 22 books of and about poetry and four anthologies. She is the recipient of the 2014 George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature from AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs),  2011 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers and the 2008 American Book Award for her book, All That Lies Between Us (Guernica Editions).

Ms. Mazziotti Gillan is also the founder and executive director of the renowned Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College. Visit her website at  

Photo: Christopher Lovi

Mark Hillringhouse is a published poet, essayist, and photographer whose works have been widely exhibited in area galleries. His photo-essay on the Passaic River was published in the American Poetry Review and his photography and writing have also have been published in The New York Times, The New Jersey Monthly, The Paris Review, and more. He was the founding editor of the American Book Review, and a contributing editor for The New York Arts Journal.

Mr. Hillringhouse is a professor of English at Passaic County Community College. Read more here.