PATERSON, NJ – The annual Paterson Poetry Festival marked its third year this past weekend, but of course, 2020 is not a normal year.

In a year filled with political turmoil, racial tensions, record unemployment and a global pandemic, Paterson’s Poet Laureate Talena Lachelle Queen said the festival was not only about celebrating local artists but also uplifting the spirits of all Patersonians.

Although there was concern this year’s festival would be canceled due to COVID-19, Queen said “the advantage of the October date” allowed organizers to plan “based on best practices that we were able to research and employ from all of the months before the event took place.”

Sign Up for Passaic Valley Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

“Ultimately, we wanted to be outside, safely, and have something, finally, to celebrate. People really needed this boost in moral. They needed happiness instead of the long list of dread that 2020 has given us. We did our part, as artists, to bring joy.”

“Joy is our job as artists and we did a good job,” she said.

The festival – founded in 2018 by Queen – is an annual two-day outdoor event that typically features poets from around the state, poetry slams, open mics, workshops, master classes and discussions.

Held on the steps outside of the Historic Passaic County Courthouse, the festival’s offerings were pared down because of COVID-19, she said.

“We didn’t have the bouncy houses and any activities that encouraged being close to another person. We, instead, only had activities that we could safely employ the CDC guidelines for social distancing,” Queen said.

While turnout was less than the hundreds who attended last year’s festival, Queen said it “understandably so, due to the enormous respect that we all must have for the pandemic that we are having a hard time, as a country, getting control of.”

“The number of happy, healthy people was perfect,’ she said.

Highlights included a serenade from Craig Redmond and the C Dreams Band, a poetry in motion car show organized by Joseph Williams and the NJ Classic Riderz Car Club and a performance by the Essence Dance School in honor of Yvonne Nambe Roach, the 2020 Maria Mazziotti Gillan Literary Service Award recipient.

Festival-goers also had the opportunity to participate in a massive master class hosted by In Full Color, an organization that empowers women of color through education and the arts founded by Summer Dawn Reyes. 

Queen, who grew up as a writer in Paterson, said the festival is important because it recognizes artists and inspires youngsters to pursue the arts.

“Poetry matters in Paterson because Patersonians have both the need and desire to express in ways that are poetic,” Queen said. “Patersonians who are artists are part of the planned Renaissance for our Great City. Not only that, our city has a history of greatness that includes the arts and we, artists, take our rightful place at this time in history on their shoulders.”