On Saturday, February 1, The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College marks its 40th anniversary with a celebration at the historic Hamilton Club, 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.

“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. “Well, we proved them wrong. Now they come from over 26 states to the Poetry Center.”

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

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 collaborated numerous times with The Poetry Center and complimented Ms. Mazziotti Gillan on her achievements. “You have done amazing things here,” he told her. The famed poet also agreed to lend his name to a poetry contest. Today the Poetry Center’s annual Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award competition attracts hundreds of entries each year.

 “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 Reviewthree 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. 

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