Poet Maria Mazziotti Gillan held a writing workshop at Eastern Connecticut State University on Nov. 2 and read from her 20 published books.
Gillan was invited to campus by the Writers Guild, a student club led by faculty advisor Daniel Donaghy that promotes creative expression among Eastern students and publishes a literary journal, “Eastern Exposure,” each year. The journal is a collection of work written by students for students. The Writer’s Guild is also responsible for bringing visiting authors to campus.
The reading opened up with Writer’s Guild President Chris Morris introducing Gillan. “Maria’s visit is one the club and English Department look forward to each year,” said Morris. “She is one of the most outgoing and loveable people I’ve ever met. During her workshop and personal time with students she does nothing but inspire them to find courage in there writing.”
Gillan began with a poem about her father. “There is something magical about writing something down that helps you really move on,” said Gillan. “This is important because I was so ashamed of my parents, and it took me until I was 50 to find the courage to write this poem.”
As Gillan read her work she gave members of the audience advice on how to tell their own story. She spoke about going into the “cave” and writing about the topics people fear. “It’s important to tell your story, everyone has something worth sharing,” said Gillan. “You know you’ve reached the cave because you’ve started crying. I always know when I’m getting to something I really need to write about because I start crying halfway through and tears will be running down my face. We are all human beings and feel the same emotions. Writing about loss, love and fear doesn’t make you weak, we all share that story. Poetry begins in your heart, not your brain.”
Gillan is known for her ability to speak of difficult topics while using brash language. She stresses to students the importance of being truthful while finding your voice and using that to enhance your writing. “I can’t lose my voice, because I love to talk, talk, talk,” said Gillan. “Sometimes you make a fool of yourself, sometimes you just don’t get there, and sometimes it just doesn’t work, but you have to be brave enough to go out on a limb.” G
Gillan travels throughout the country to read, speak and inspire students. “I love hearing people’s stories, it’s a human connection for me,” she said.
On Nov. 3, Gillan held a generative workshop for students, faculty and staff. She spoke about her writing and how she begins her p.ocess, “I usually start with a line of some sort or something I need to write about,” said Gillan. “I read a lot, and I find myself reading and then writing in my journal about something I was worrying about or somebody I cared about, and before you know it I am writing a poem.” Participants were given a short prompt and about 25 minutes to draft a poem.
“She is just inspiring,” said Amanda DeMaio, senior English student and vice president of the Eastern Writer’s Guild. “She teaches young writers to just let go and write what they feel, not focus on what others will think. Her writing comes from the heart, she digs deep into her cave to confront issues that may be hard to confront otherwise. She is a genius when it comes to writing poetry and does it in a way no one else does.”
Participants went around the table to read their work. “I could just cry, they all wrote such beautiful poetry,” said Gillan. “The students wrote amazing work in such a short time, we could publish a book just with the work that was created today.”
“It was a joy to have Maria back at Eastern,” said Donaghy. “Her reading and generative writing workshop were fantastic. She has a great sense of who our students are and has the wisdom and insight to speak directly to them and help them write deeply personal, important, and accomplished poems. She is such a wonderfully supportive teacher and an essential poet.”