A Tribute to Stephen Stepanchev

Writer Alan Walowitz’s poem “Waiting for the Singularity” was featured in Issue #5 of Newtown Literary. Below, he reflects on the first Poet Laureate of Queens.

To learn more about Mr. Stepanchev, check out this profile in QC Magazine. Read more of Alan’s writing at Melancholy Hyperbole.

Imagine my joy when I opened the April 2013 issue of Poetry and found the first poem in that issue had been written by Stephen Stepanchev, my poetry teacher at Queens College in 1969 and 1970. Prof. Stepanchev was still alive and still writing—and was still being published in Poetry, the doyenne of American literary journals, no offense to Newtown Literary.

I had thought about him quite a lot over the years since I left Queens College, and we had remained in touch for a short while after my graduation. But I know how way leads onto way, and I’ve learned in my own life as a teacher, how difficult it is to stay in touch with one’s students—and, conversely, for one’s students to remain in touch with their teachers.

But the Internet can be a wonderful tool for exploring the past, and I found that Stephen Stepanchev was indeed living in Hastings-on-Hudson, not so far from Flushing where he made his home for so many years, and where he was named the first Poet Laureate of Queens from 1997 till 2000. I sent him a letter congratulating him on his latest appearance in Poetry and to let him know the impact his teaching had made on me, both as a poet and as a teacher of English. Though the speed of life can make it feel as if we’re doomed to be late, sometimes it turns out it’s not too late at all.

I received a note back from Prof. Stepanchev thanking me—and he claimed he remembered me, though I doubt I’m any more memorable than the hundreds and hundreds of students he’s taught through the years how to write poems that are meaningful to themselves and to others. He told me in his note that he was living in Hastings in order to be closer to his niece, and he told me that he still taught a current events class once a week. Remarkable!

When I learned this year that he had written a new book of poems to mark his 100th year, I ordered it and read it with even more joy. The book’s a wonder, filled with acute observations of life as it’s lived close to the Hudson, and, beyond that, of a life that’s been well-lived for so long. The book’s called River Reveries, published by Orchises Press in Washington, DC. It’s Stephen Stepanchev’s 12th collection and, based on his skill as a poet and of his unmistakable love of life, I’m confident it won’t be his last.

Thanks, Alan.  And thank you, Mr. Stepanchev, if you’re reading this.

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On September 1, First Tuesdays presents Valerie G. Keane at Terrazza 7. Open-mic signups start at 6:30 p.m.; the reading begins at 7:00. Suggested donation: $5.

Delve deep into your personal writing as Heightening Stories presents the Creative Nonfiction/Autobiographical Fiction workshop. The next four-session cycle begins September 9, with enrollment open until November 4; register by September 2 to save $40 on a three-cycle package.

Work on your development and revision skills! Heightening Stories presents the Community Writing Exercise Workshop. The next four-session cycle begins September 15, with enrollment open until November 10; register by September 8 to save $30 on a three-cycle package.

On September 15 at 8:00 p.m., the LIC Reading Series presents: Akhil Sharma, Justin Taylor, and Sam Lipsyte. Check out some great Queens writers in Brooklyn as part of this official Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend Event.

Want to give your writing a kick in the pants? Heightening Stories presents the Jumpstart Your Writing online workshop starting September 20.  Register by September 10 to save $25.

The Queens Young Authors and Poets Contest needs your support! QYAP is the biggest writing contest in the borough, inviting kids in grades 3 through 12 to submit poetry or prose. The winners get published in Newtown Literary. Between now and September 30, you can support the contest at our IndieGoGo page, where you can learn more about the contest and the great perks we have for donors!

Will you be at the 2015 Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference on October 3 at The New School? If you are, be sure to look for our own founder, Tim Fredrick, as he leads a panel on getting published in mainstream literary journals.

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