At 75, Paterson-born poet Maria Mazziotti Gillan won’t rest on her laurels, substantial though they are. Along a road that she admits has at times been rough, Gillan has amassed a parade of accomplishments. She grew up in a cold-water flat on 17th Street, the shy daughter of Italian immigrants.
“Believe me, at 19, people thought I was crazy when I said I wanted to be a poet,” she confesses. “Like, ‘Who the hell can make a living as a poet?’”
As a youth, Gillan was embarrassed by her heritage and social standing—and tried to distance herself from her working-class roots. Ashamed of her ethnic accent, she was mesmerized by the elegance of English, and especially by the poems of e.e. cummings and William Carlos Williams, a fellow Jerseyan.
She began writing poems as a young teen, but not until decades later—while taking graduate courses at Drew University in Madison—did she recognize the role her childhood memories could play in her work. A fleeting comment by one of her professors changed everything.
READ THE FULL STORY: Voyage To Her Roots (New Jersey Monthly)