By Tammy Scileppi
It’s high time Queens had a literary voice of its own. With countless stories to tell, the borough of uber-diversity has brought forth Newtown Literary, an innovative semi-annual literary journal, showcasing a collection of works by 26 local writers. It’s chock-full of deep, heartfelt pieces that go beyond the realm of run-of-the-mill storytelling.
Longtime residents who hail from Long Island City to Richmond Hill, immigrants, and transplants from other parts of the country make up the bevy of unpublished, newbie and established scribes, including one short story entrant who writes for “CBS Evening News.” Teaming up with founding editor, Tim Fredrick, they joined creative forces and published the inaugural issue in November.
An Elmhurst resident, Fredrick said he was inspired by reading series – such as Boundless Tales – around the borough.
“Readings are great ways to connect with your readers, but they are also ultimately temporary,” he said. “I thought the journal would be critical in creating a permanent record of the writing that’s happening in Queens.”
His vision: to provide readers with a close-up view of how local writers see life here and what it means to be a part of the most diverse area in the United States.
The name “Newtown” was chosen because it was one of the original towns incorporated into Queens in 1898.
“Other New York City boroughs—especially Manhattan and Brooklyn—have opportunities for their writers to get their work out there,” Fredrick said. “We see the journal as a vehicle to bring Queens to the forefront of the New York City literary world. There’s a lot of great poetry and prose being written in this borough that just isn’t getting read.”
Fredrick spoke before dozens of guests who came to celebrate Newtown Literary’s launch on Dec. 14, with open mic readings by its debut writers. Members of the editorial board and the nonprofit organization that publishes the journal – Newtown Literary Alliance, Inc. – attended the event, held at the Waltz-Astoria, 23-14 Ditmars Blvd., Astoria.
Inspired by Queens’ trademark – diversity – Newtown Literary features a sampling of many different voices describing colorful local experiences – urban slice of life tales, poems, love stories. This is the stuff that readers can really sink their teeth into. Engaging pieces written by skilled wordsmiths, who combine humor, pathos, and passion, capture the essence and the state of mind that is Queens.
“We received more than 130 submissions and accepted 45 of those,” said Fredrick. “There were so many good pieces that we had to save some for Issue No. 2,” which comes out in May.
When he’s not working on the journal or writing short stories, Fredrick teaches elementary school at Queens Paideia School in Long Island City.
“I like that Queens is a low-key place to be,” he said. “I also enjoy the diversity of people and experiences in the borough. Being around so many different types of people enriches my life and my writing.”
Former TimesLedger Newspapers Managing Editor Ian MacFarland is featured in the journal.
“I first heard about the journal from a friend who shared an article about it from one of the local papers, on Facebook,” said MacFarland. “There’s a small group of us in the city, who all met through the newspaper business and have been getting together regularly for the past year or so to share our creative writing, get feedback and encourage each other to do some personal writing, in addition to the work we do professionally.”
His piece is excerpted from a novel he has been working on for a little over a year. “It’s based on ideas that I’ve had for a while, but I was never able to really buckle down and start working on it until I had a group of people to read my crappy first drafts and talk through my ideas. I think Newtown will be able to provide that kind of support to more people in Queens”
MacFarland pointed out that writing is a solitary activity and writers often need a way to connect to a network of people who can provide feedback as well as motivation to get the author to move forward.
He said Frederick and the editorial board are trying to establish not only a forum for publication but also the Newtown Literary Alliance, which will work to support local writing and writers.
“The city looms so large as a cultural icon that it has a lot of romantic notions attached to it,” MacFarland said. “To me, the outer boroughs are the real New York because that’s where the people really live, and everything is dirty and noisy, and slow and expensive, and crowded, and generally ridiculous. And nothing really makes a lot of sense.”
The submission window for Newtown Literary’s second issue, due out in May, is now open until Feb. 28.
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