“You don’t hear much about Queens, especially in pop culture,” said Nicole Steinberg, editor of a new anthology celebrating what she refers to as the “forgotten borough.”
Steinberg grew up in co-ops on the border of Corona and Jackson Heights and realized people living outside of New York State, and even many city residents do not know the first thing about our fair borough. “Whenever I hear about Queens in the news it’s like ‘Oh there’s this great Chinese community in Flushing.’ It’s like, oh really? I grew up going there,” she said.
To mainstream media, Queens is often undiscovered territory — a borough of old customs and new immigrants. The reputation is not entirely undeserved, as the county has the most diverse population in the entire nation, but Queens is certainly not enigmatic. From Jamaica to Jackson Heights and from Little Neck to Maspeth, Queens is America.
After graduating from Brandeis University, Steinberg went back home. Some of her friends from college moved to the city “and they had this idea of what New York would be like, and they had no idea about Queens,” Steinberg said. “They had this misconception that if you weren’t from Manhattan, you weren’t really from New York, and I wanted to set people straight on that.” The idea for an anthology was born.
When she set out to tell stories of the borough, Steinberg said, she received overwhelming support from the literary community. “The amount of Queens pride was definitely nice and a pleasant surprise,” she said.
In the book are essays and poems from such notables as Julia Alvarez, who writes about living in then-segregated Bayside, and rising stars like Susan Chi, who writes about spending her youth in a drug-induced haze with friends in Astoria.
Unlike many theme-centered anthologies, which may grow repetitive or feel forced, Steinberg’s selections are entertaining and varied enough so that there truly is something for everyone — even for the Queens novice.
“I tapped people from different backgrounds and parts of Queens,” Steinberg said regarding her selection process. “I thought I would end up getting a well rounded book and that ended up happening. That faith served me well in the end.”
Steinberg said she was surprised by some issues that the book brought up. “A theme that came up that runs throughout the book is isolation,” Steinberg said, “but that’s such an important aspect of what life is like in Queens, especially for immigrant communities.”
Though she has forsaken her home borough for Philadelphia, where she works at the Pew Foundation, Steinberg said she still comes home to visit often. She said the borough has changed and gained some acclaim since the time when she was growing up. “In places like Sunnyside and Jackson Heights, people are starting to realize they can go there and eat really well, and it’s close to Manhattan,” she said.
However, visiting home brings up many different feelings for Steinberg. “Sometimes when I go back, I am just like ‘Ugh how did I ever deal with this?’ and sometimes when I go back I am just so happy,” she said. Spoken like a true New Yorker.
Steinberg will be signing copies of “Forgotten Borough; Writers Come to Terms with Queens” at a launch party in Long Island City on Feb. 26. She will be joined by Nicole Cooley, Marcy Dermansky and Arthur Neresian, who each contributed to the book.
When: Feb. 26, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.books will be on sale for $21.95
Where: LIC Bar, 45-58 Vernon Blvd., LIC