One former journalist is hoping to expose the Queens community to the borough’s best poets while giving aspiring artists a platform to showcase their work.
Mike Geffner started the Queens Lit Fest last year, where more than 300 people came out to LIC Bar for a two-day poetry and prose reading series. This year, Geffner will host the festival at LIC Landing on July 16 and 17 with a focus on involving both experienced writers and those just starting their careers.
“In a lot of these events you’re being read to by someone with six books or someone who’s been a writer for 30 years, and I think it should be all inclusive,” Geffner said.
There will be several hours dedicated to open mic programming and Geffner has invited high school students from Bard High School Early College to participate. Former Queens poet laureate Paolo Javier and current poet laureate Maria Lisella will perform along with groups such as the Queens Writers’ Lab and the Mystery Writers of America Queens edition.
Music will also be a part of the festival, with performances by hip-hop artist and Astoria resident Billy Conahan, singer/songwriters Katelyn Richards, Shako Khiski, Olithea, Marc Montfleury and Samantha Leon.
The two-day event will run from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Every performer is either a Queens resident or was born and raised in Queens. Geffner, who grew up in Far Rockaway and now lives in Forest Hills, said he wanted to help build and strengthen the Queens literary community so that it could one day be compared to the Brooklyn or Harlem literary scene.
“I do feel that Queens is on the precipice of a cultural renaissance and I feel like I’m in the forefront with this festival,” he said.
Geffner, who was a journalist for The Village Voice, Associated Press and other publications for 30 years got his start in open mics and literary performances in Forest Hills. He worked on his articles at a former vegan restaurant called Tierra Sana. The owner of the restaurant offered him free food if he helped to organize a poetry event at the space twice a month.
He eventually agreed and attracted more than 60 people to the restaurant for a poetry series. Geffner quickly grew to love programming the event and quit his journalism career to start The Inspired Word in 2010, a performance series in Manhattan.
Long Island City’s burgeoning popularity convinced Geffner that he needed to host an event in the neighborhood. After touring LIC Bar for an upcoming event last year, he told the owner that he was interested in hosting a literary performance series at the space last March. He only had about four months to plan the first-ever Queens Lit Fest last August.
“[The LIC Bar owner] said yes,” Geffner said. “Then I left the place and I said, ‘What did I just commit to?'”
He browsed Wikipedia and Google extensively to find groups and poets who would be interested in participating. The “enormous project” paid off when he drew more than 300 people. Geffner hopes to make this an annual event and attract more sponsors.
“It’s a quieter scene than Brooklyn and Harlem and things like that,” Geffner said. “Harlem and Brooklyn, they are the stars and everybody talks about the arts and culture going on there. But there’s more to Queens than people realize and I found that out when I started producing open mics and other literary events in [the borough].”
Queens Lit Fest is funded in part by Poets & Writers with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
Donations are encouraged and you can become a sponsor when you donate $50 or more. Sponsors will have their names and businesses promoted on various social media channels.
For a full list of performers and to RSVP, visit Queens Lit Fest.