QUEENS, NY – Borough President Melinda Katz today swore-in Astoria resident and Queens-native Maria Lisella as the new Queens Poet Laureate.
“We received applications from 30 accomplished poets and the task of narrowing those applications down to five finalists and then to a single winner was a difficult one, but we felt Maria Lisella stood out because of the quality of her poetry and because of the clear and creative vision she has for promoting a love of poetry to the diverse audiences found in “The World’s Borough,” said Borough President KATZ. “Ms. Lisella is an amazing writer who is capable of synthesizing the borough’s many cultures and languages into incredible poetry. She also has a deep love and appreciation of Queens that comes from being a lifelong resident, and she understands the responsibility that comes from being selected as Queens Poet Laureate.”
The swear-in took place during an installation ceremony held in Queens Borough Hall and was the culmination of a three-month search to find the next Queens Poet Laureate. Applicants for the unpaid position were required to be residents of Queens and were asked to demonstrate their vision for how they would use the position to promote a love of poetry and literacy throughout the borough.
“I am honored to join this illustrious list of poets who have been Queens Poet Laureates, especially Stephen Stepanchev, who was one of my professors at Queens College, and Hal Sirowitz, who is also a charter member of brevitas, an online poetry circle,” said Queens Poet Laureate MARIA LISELLA. “To me, Queens epitomizes what New York City has always been: the first stop for immigrants in their quest for a new life. Today, it is easier for merchandise and goods to cross borders than people. Poetry is linked to human movement because all of our stories are renewed by the flow of cultures; and Queens has myriad stories to tell.”
Ms. Lisella is the sixth poet to serve as the borough’s Poet Laureate. Born in South Jamaica, Queens, Ms. Lisella moved with her family to Bellerose and lived as a student in Flushing before she settled in Astoria 40 years ago. She hails from a family of Italian immigrants and speaks Italian along with basic Spanish.
Ms. Lisella is the author of three books of poetry, including the recently published Thieves in the Family (from NYQ Books), along with Amore on Hope Street (from Finishing Line Press) and Two Naked Feet (from PWP Books), which were both nominated for Pushcart Prizes. Her poetry has also been published in Feile Fiesta, LIPS, Paterson Literary Review, Skidrow Penthouse, The New York Quarterly, First Literary Review East and Pirene’s Fountain. Ms. Lisella won Honorable Mention for the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award and is a charter member of the brevitas online poetry circle.
Ms. Lisella has also been a travel writer for 30 years, visiting 50 countries during her career and developing a familiarity with many different cultures. Her travel writing has appeared in numerous outlets, including Travel and Leisure, The Dallas Morning News and FOXNews.com. She also contributes to La Voce di New York, an Italian and English bilingual online newspaper.
Ms. Lisella graduated from Queensborough Community College and Queens College, earned a Master’s degree from NYU-Polytechnic Institute and studied social media at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has also taught English as a Second Language and Composition at Touro College and has taught Tourism and Hospitality at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
The search for the next Queens Poet Laureate was undertaken by Borough President Katz in partnership with Queens College and Queens Library. The search began in March when an open call for applications was made to the borough’s published poets.
Applicants were asked to submit writing samples that did not exceed ten pages per applicant. A panel of expert judges then reviewed the samples and also conducted interviews of the five contenders. The panel then submitted their top candidates to Borough President Katz, who selected Ms. Lisella to be the Sixth Queens Poet Laureate.
The individuals chosen to be on the panel of judges were selected by the Queens Poet Laureate Administrative Committee, which also coordinated the logistics of the Poet Laureate search. The Administrative Committee included representatives from Borough President Katz’s office, Queens College and Queens Library, along with officials from St. John’s University and the Queens Council on the Arts.
“I congratulate the new Queens Poet Laureate Maria Lisella — a worthy representative of an art form that is as varied, complex and vibrant as is Queens itself,” said FÉLIX V. MATOS RODRÍGUEZ, President of Queens College. “Ms. Lisella must now commit to the task of expressing, both to our borough and to the world, the great beauty that lies in Queens’ diversity of cultures, languages and peoples.”
“Queens Library is the borough’s home to the written word in every neighborhood,” said BRIDGET QUINN-CAREY, Interim President and CEO of Queens Library. “We thank and commend Borough President Katz for shining a spotlight on the literary arts. Poetry, literature and artistic expression are essential elements of a connected, creative and inspired society. We look forward to welcoming our new Poet Laureate to Queens Library.”
“The members of the Queens Poet Laureate Administrative Committee and this year’s panel of judges deserve our thanks for the hard work they put in during the search for the next Queens Poet Laureate,” Borough President KATZ said. “They had a difficult job of reviewing and ranking so many excellent applications, but they did superb job.”
This year Queens Library joined the Queens Poet Laureate partnership and will be making its locations available to Ms. Lisella for her to perform poetry readings and conduct other outreach programs for diverse audiences across the borough.
The Queens Poet Laureate traces its roots to 1996 when Professor David Cohen, Secretary of the Friends of the Queens College Library, approached then-Borough President Claire Shulman and proposed creating the position. The Queens Borough President’s Office and Queens College then worked in partnership to select the next five Queens Poet Laureates, the first of whom began his service in 1997.
The previous Queens Poet Laureates were Stephen Stepanchev (1997 – 2001), Hal Sirowitz (2001 – 2004), Ishle Yi Park (2004 – 2007), Julio Marzan (2007 – 2010) and Paolo Javier (2010 – 2014).
The current members of the Queens Poet Laureate Administrative Committee are: Donna Ciampa-Lauria, Director of Flushing Library; Marie-Lise Gazarian, Professor of Languages and Literatures, St. John’s University; Andrew P. Jackson, Executive Director, Langston Hughes Community Library & Cultural Center; Lynn Lobell, Grants and Resource Director, Queens Council on the Arts; Jeffrey Rosenstock, Assistant Vice President for External and Governmental Relations, Queens College; Maria Terrone, Consultant, Queens College Communications, and Nayelli Valencia, Director of Cultural Affairs and Tourism, Queens Borough President’s Office.
The year’s panel of judges was made up of playwright and fiction writer Paulina Barros, writer Ryan Black, Queens Library Literature and Languages Division manager Rachel Donner, poet Aaron Fagan, former Queens Poet Laureate Paolo Javier and poet, critic, professor and painter Stephen Massimilla.
Follow Borough President Katz via @melindakatz or www.facebook.com/queensbpkatz