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Queens Chronicle

Reflections on a life in Queens

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Posted: Thursday, January 3, 2019 10:30 am

It took longtime Jackson Heights resident Maria Terrone years to answer “writer” when anyone asked her what she did.

“People hear the word and think you’re a dilettante,” she explained in a recent telephone interview. “It’s even harder to say you’re a poet.”

And, while she has held numerous other jobs along the way, including assistant vice-president for communications at Queens College, she has had four collections of her poetry published and, in 2015, became the poetry editor of the journal “Italian Americana.”

Her fifth book, a collection of creative nonfiction essays entitled “At Home in the New World,” has just been published, and, at long last, Terrone seems perfectly at ease proclaiming her chosen profession.

“It took a while to have confidence,” she admitted, finally being able to acknowledge that “I’m writing good work.” She’s proud that some of her essays had already been published in various prestigious journals, among them “Witness,” “Green Mountains Review,” “The Common,” “Briar Cliff Review” and “Potomac Review.”

The title essay of the new publication was based on her piece commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum, which she considers “a turning point for me as a writer.”

That essay, the last of 21 in the book, is a reflection on the changes she has seen in the neighborhood where, as a child, she skipped rope and, years later, pledged her marriage vows.

Of the area she still calls home, Terrone writes, “Once a calm, predictable, beginning-middle-end kind of place,” today it is “a kaleidoscope turning in the hands of thousands, its colors and patterns constantly shifting.”

The international hub that exists there “is almost unrecognizable from when I grew up,” she said during the interview, giving the essay “deep personal meaning” to her.

Much of the book is devoted to Terrone’s life in New York City, including some of her more memorable formative childhood experiences.

Terrone covers a great deal of territory, much of it culled from ordinary events that she recalls with extraordinary insight.

She describes in vivid detail her brother Bob’s obsession with guns. He “shatters the stereotype of a good ole boy in love with his firearms,” she writes. And she recalls the time, in adulthood, when she took a crack at shooting practice.

“The shell falls to the ground, useless and spent, exactly as I’m beginning to feel,” she explains, in the kind of concise, surprising turn of phrase that typifies much of her writing.

She reminisces over her relationship with her father, who, in his later years, was caught in the grip of Alzheimer’s disease; with a former employer who was a descendant of George Peabody, of banking fame; and with one Fergus Anckorn, who had been taken prisoner by the Japanese during the Second World War.

And she often points to her Italian heritage. “Never tell anyone your business,” she was taught. As she tells her stories in her book, she is well aware that she is “breaking the rules with every sentence.”

From train rides into Manhattan (including one with a man with a gun on board) and trips to Queens supermarkets that overflow with foods from foreign lands, to a particularly nostalgic homage to 5 Pointz, the former mecca of graffiti artists in Long Island City, residents of the borough, in particular, will have much in which to revel.

As one who loves to do research, Terrone imbues many of her personal reflections with historical perspective. And sprinkled throughout the book are several of her poems that share themes with her stories.

“At Home in the New World” is available for purchase ($16) on Amazon, or you may visit Bordighera Press and follow the links.

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