Queens, In Their Own Words

Since establishing Newtown Literary in 2012, Fredrick has grown the journal from a team of four volunteers to a team of 25. They are currently working on the seventh issue of the publication.
Poet Richard Jeffrey Newman is on the Board of Directors for Newtown Literary. His body of work includes poetry regarding feminism, as well as a number of classic Iranian poetry translations.

Newman has strong familial ties in Jackson Heights, and continues to hold a reading series at Terraza Cafe in Elmhurst. The series, entitled First Tuesdays, was one of the first neighborhood reading series in the borough. The monthly get-together features an open mic hour and a featured reader. Once the readings are over, the group puts together a cento using lines from each presenter.

As an organizer for the series, Newman has come across many poets from all kinds of backgrounds, races and ethnicities. He pointed out that one of the most important aspects about the literary scene in Queens is diversity, and there are writers from immigrant communities who work in their native languages. Examples include Queens residents, Huang Xiang, a Chinese poet, and Josepeh Lagaspi, who founded the Asian American literature organization, Kundiman.

Shelley Ettinger

“Queens feeds my imagination, it’s so vibrant and alive,” says author Shelley Ettinger. “The culture, the struggles that took place here, it’s just an important center socially, culturally and politically.”

There is a bilingual bookstore in Jackson Heights, Libreria Barco de Papel, that hosts readings, author panels and discussions for Spanish-speakers.

“It’s absolutely true that in the last five years or so, there has been a real growth in the literary community,” Newman said. “But over the years, I have met poets who wrote in Korean or Bengali and that’s an aspect of the literary scene that a lot of people don’t know about.”

Before writing groups and reading series became so accessible, Newman credited a now discontinued Queens Council on the Arts program that helped writers reach the public with their work. Queens in Love with Literature, otherwise known as QUILL, focused on making the different types of literary communities visible through workshops and readings.

Armenian-American and LGBTQI writer Nancy Agabian has seen not only diversity within her Heightening Stories workshops, but she’s also noticed that the age range in participants stagger from young women in their 20s to older women in their 60s.

Heightening Stories actually started out as a workshop for immigrants and first-generation Americans with a grant from the Queens Council of the Arts. Years later, after the grant was done, members of the workshop still got together to critique each other’s work. Eventually, in 2012, Agabian decided to transform Heightening Stories into a small business where students could link social issues with a craft issue to tell a story.

For example, students of the workshop can tie the topic of racism with the craft issue of learning how to show and tell racism within a story. Students learn how to use description, character and details to explain or articulate a short story.

“Everyone contributes to the workshops so it’s not as if I were telling them what they needed to learn,” Agabian said.
Shelley Ettinger, author of Vera’s Will, hasn’t committed to one particular literary group as yet, but it’s understandable since she didn’t begin truly writing until she was in her late 40s. She met Fredrick at one of his meetups for LGBTQI writers in Queens.

Next year, Queens will have its first-ever book festival in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, which will rival the size of the Brooklyn Book Festival. Ettinger has already submitted her own work in order to be featured.

Nancy Agabian

Nancy Agabian (second from right) with members of her Heightening Stories workshop.

“This has to be a cliché, but everybody knows that Queens is the world, the population represents the whole world,” Ettinger said, adding that the festival’s organizers are looking to showcase that fact. “Queens feeds my imagination, it’s so vibrant and so alive. The culture, the struggles that took place here, it’s just an important center socially, culturally and politically, and I’ve been really fortunate to be a part of it.”

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Short URL: http://itsqueens.com/?p=1332

Posted by on Dec 30 2015. Filed under Fashion & Arts, Featured Articles, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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