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The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College Announces Its 40th Anniversary Celebration on
Saturday, February 1

Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Executive Director of the Poetry Center,
with former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins at a 2017 reading.
 
 
Posted January 31, 2020

 

“When we started, people told me a poetry center here would never succeed, because nobody was going to come to Paterson,” said Maria Mazziotti Gillan, founder and executive director of The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College. “Well, we proved them wrong. Now they come from over 26 states to the Poetry Center.”

On Saturday, February 1, The Poetry Center marks its 40th anniversary  with a celebration at the historic Hamilton Club at 32 Church Street in downtown Paterson. Event hours are 11:30 am to 1:00 pm. Admission is free. Please rsvp at sdesai@pccc.edu

Founded in 1980, The Poetry Center has grown into a respected force on the contemporary poetry scene, offering readings and workshops by acclaimed poets, including Pulitzer Prize winners, poet laureates of the United States, and the famed Patersonian
Allen Ginsberg.

“I’m proud of how we have grown and brought fantastic poets and poetry to so many people,” said Ms. Mazziotti Gillan, a renowned author in her own right, whose critically acclaimed works often draw upon her life experience growing up in Paterson as the daughter of Italian immigrants. 

The recipient of numerous grants from The New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Poetry Center has generated several literary publications, including the Paterson Literary Review, three annual poetry competitions, and the popular Distinguished Poets Series, which provides free monthly readings by well-known poets. Innovative workshops enable attendees to work closely with top poets at minimal cost. 

The Center also supports community-focused programs that bring theater and poetry to local schoolchildren as well as outreach programs, such as Poetry in Prisons, that employ creativity as social service and healing.

Some of most acclaimed poets of our time have presented readings and workshops at The Center, including Denise Levertov (Lannan Literary Award for Poetry); Amiri Baraka (American Book Awards); William Stafford (U.S. Poet Laureate); Lucille Clifton (National Book Award for Poetry); Stanley Kunitz (U.S. Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize for Poetry); and  Richard Blanco (read at President Obama’s second inauguration). 

But the best known is Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), who once lived in Paterson and whose distinctive work defined the rebellious Beat Generation of the mid-20th century.

"Ginsberg was a trip," said Ms. Mazziotti Gillan, recalling the first time the poet appeared at the Poetry Center. "He was rude and could be insulting." According to Mazziotti Gillan, Ginsberg demanded a small table with a cup of tea, sugar, and flowers onstage alongside him. "He refused to sit in the chair provided," said Ms. Mazziotti Gillan. "He wanted a regal chair, so one of our staff ran to the thrift shops down the street and returned with a few velvet chairs." Ginsberg complained about those, too, but ultimately performed the reading to everyone's relief.

After several more collaborations with the Center, the brash poet complimented Ms. Mazziotti Gillan on her achievements. “You have done amazing things here,” Ginsberg told her. He even gave permission to name a poetry contest after him. Today, the Poetry Center’s annual Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award competition attracts hundreds of entries each year.

Saturday’s celebration will include remarks by Dr. Steven Rose, president of Passaic County Community College (PCCC); presentations by award-winning poet Laura Boss and art photographer Mark Hillringhouse; and proclamations from Congressman Bill Pascrell, and the City of Paterson, among others.

Following the celebration, The Poetry Center will host a reading by winners of the 2019 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards. The 1:00 pm reading is free and all are welcome.