English professor receives national writing award
February 15, 2011Tweet
Binghamton University English Professor Maria Mazziotti Gillan is one of three national writers set to receive 2011 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Awards on March 2.
Gillan holds many titles, including professor of poetry, director of the creative writing program and director of the Binghamton Center for Writers. Her work at the University is just one of the many other titles, contributions and achievements she is being honored for.
“Elliot Figman, the head of Poets & Writers, called and I wondered why he was calling me, and then he told me the board had just chosen me to receive the award. I was thrilled,” Gillan said.
The Writers for Writers award is designed to recognize writers who have contributed to the expansion and well being of the literary community.
Gillan’s involvement in strengthening the development of writers began more than 30 years ago in Paterson N.J., with her founding of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College. Gillan also created numerous awards, including the Paterson Poetry Book Prize, the Paterson Fiction Book Prize and the Prize for Books for Young People.
“Anytime I get an idea I start a program,” Gillan said. “I got an idea that I would start these book awards, and then I gave the books to the Paterson public school libraries, then I did the same thing here. It’s a way of getting the books into the system.”
Despite her legacy, Gillan never expected to be honored with a Writers for Writers Award.
“It was a surprise to get this,” Gillan said. “I did not think anyone had noticed, so it’s nice to know. It’s very gratifying.”
Gillan is passionate about helping aspiring writers find their niche in the world. She attributes the source of her passion to the way she was brought up. Growing up in a poor household, Gillan’s parents taught her about the responsibility she had to the world and to other people.
“My mother had this garden that produced everything, and she would give away food that she cooked,” Gillan said. “Since I didn’t have a garden, I gave away what I could, which was to create space for writers and places for writers and opportunities for writers. I would not have wanted to do that if I did not see the way my parents dealt with the world.”
This philosophy has helped Gillan go far. Previous awards she has received include the 2008 Chancellor’s Award for Scholarship and Creative Endeavor from Binghamton University, the 2008 American Book Award for her book All That Lies Between Us and the New Jersey Governor’s Award for Literary Outreach.
Gillan has also published 12 books of poetry. Her latest book is a collection of poems from previous works, titled What We Pass On: Collected Poems 1980-2009.
Gillan said she has no intentions of slowing down, and has a lot more she wants to accomplish.
“I want to keep teaching; I want to keep writing,” she said. “ I have maybe 500 poems in various stages.”
There is another hobby that Gillan does not often talk about: “I want to continue to paint. I painted when I was a kid, but later on I didn’t have time because I was raising my kids.”
The Writers for Writers award will be presented to Gillan at the Poets & Writers’ benefit dinner, titled In Celebration of Writers, to be held March 2 at the Capitale in New York City.
Grisham, a best-selling novelist, is the author of thrillers such as A Time to Kill and The Pelican Brief. Nunez is an award-winning author and executive producer of the 2004 Emmy-nominated CUNY TV series Black Writers in America. Jonathan Galassi, publisher of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, will receive the Editor’s Award.
“To receive this award at the same time as John Grisham is thrilling to me,” Gillan said.
Gillan describes her poetry as writing that specializes in the ordinary. “I want to write about what it means to be human,” she said, “about what it is to be in the world. There is a kind of blessing in the ordinary.”
It is this worldly lesson that Gillan passes on to her students. Like the lesson her parents taught her, Gillan teaches that keeping everything for yourself will eventually leave you with nothing. Giving to others is the key.
“I got letters from all across the country with people saying ‘I will never forget what you did for me’,” said Gillan, “I had forgotten what I did. But once you’ve done it, it’s done. I don’t think about it. I do it because I want to do it.”