Borough President Melinda Katz installed Astoria resident Maria Lisella as the borough’s sixth poet laureate in a ceremony on Tuesday after a three-month search, including the vetting of more than 30 candidates.
Lisella, an author and journalist, will use the unpaid position to promote a love of poetry and literature throughout the “World’s Borough.” An author of three books of poetry, Lisella said she hopes to use the position not to market herself, but rather to connect and foster the literature community in Queens.
“It’s a privilege and it’s an opportunity, but I don’t see it as a way to promote moi,” Lisella said. “I think it’s about marketing the borough and the community.”
A south Jamaica native, Lisella’s family moved to Bellerose when she was young and she lived in Flushing as well before settling down in Astoria for the last 40 years. She is an alum of Queenborough Community College and Queens College, and she received a master’s degree from NYU-Polytechnic Institute. Lisella has been a travel writer for three decades, and her work has appeared in The Dallas Morning News and Foxnews.com, among other news outlets.
Like Queens, Lisella has been influenced by a range of cultures. Her family has roots in Italy and she speaks English, Italian and Spanish. Lisella has also visited about 60 countries.
“Ms. Lisella is an amazing writer who is capable of synthesizing the borough’s many cultures and languages into incredible poetry,” Katz said. “She also has a deep love and appreciation of Queens that comes from being a lifelong resident.”
The Queens Poet Laureate position was initially established in 1996 by Claire Shulman’s administration in partnership with Queens College.
Lisella was one of five finalists selected by a panel of judges. The judges were appointed by the Queens Poet Laureate Administrative Committee. Out of the top candidates, Katz ultimately selected Lisella, who has connections with past Queens Poet Laureates.
The first Queens Poet Laureate, Stephen Stepanchev, was a professor to Lisella in Queens College. Lisella and the second laureate, Hal Sirowitz, are both members of Brevitas, an online poetry circle.
As the new Queens Poet Laureate, Lisella will give readings of poetry around the borough in Queens Library branches and conduct outreach programs. Lisella held her first official reading in the position at the end of her induction ceremony. She read two pieces from her most recent poetry book, “Thieves in the Family.”
To connect the Queens literature community, Lisella has thought of some initiatives including having a book fair, starting a website dedicated to Queens poetry and holding readings in cultural institutions, such as the Louis Armstrong House Museum and the Museum of the Moving Image.
She also wants to use social media to reach the Queens poetry community.
“There are a lot of pockets of activity going on [in Queens],” Lisella said, “so I have to plug into that.”