Pichchenda Bao. [Salon photos by W. Jay Wanczyk]

Salon samples cultures of Queens

Prolific writer Mary Lannon brought two of her cherished creative communities together for an Irish-American Writers & Artists Queens Writers Salon on a Sunday afternoon in late November. Mary recruited members of her Queens Writers Lab to join IAW&A folks at the New York Irish Center, Queens for a program of poetry, story and song.

An ebullient host, Mary is author of “Tide Girl,” a finalist for the 2023 PEN\Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. More about Mary at https://marylannon.com.

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Mary Lannon.

First presenter Nancy Agabian’s entry from her novel “The Fear of Large and Small Nations,” set in Queens and Armenia, depicts both the opportunities and limitations faced by immigrants seeking freedom in America. The Kirkus Reviews endorsement sums it best: “...challenges traditional gender roles, discrimination, and homophobia. Beautifully textured writing in a compelling tale that ponders identity and belonging.” Nancy’s fiction, poetry, performance and memoir have been honored by PEN, Lambda Literary and the William Saroyan Foundation. http://nancyagabian.com

Your correspondent, a longtime IAW&A Board member, read an essay, “Unconsciously Irish,” describing what drew me to IAW&A and the Irish-American community, while several generations removed from the soil of Ireland. my roots are in that Queens-adjacent borough of Brooklyn. Not inclined to self-praise, I thanked the audience for their gracious reception. 

Queens-born poet Vaughn M. Watson has lived in China and visited many parts of the world. His travels and sensitivity are reflected in his gorgeous poems, “Prayer at Naminoue” and “Guanyin stands before me bearing a lotus.”  “Terpsichore” pays tribute to the muse of poetry and dance. A nominee for the prestigious Pushcart prize, Vaughn’s poetry, fiction and nonfiction have been published in literary journals as varied as Tahoma Literary Review, About Place and The Common. 

We can count on Mark Butler, playwright, composer, and writer to bring the funny, and he did not disappoint with his short story about the first date of a couple who met on an app. Mark brought wry observations, a surprise ending, and lines that a New York City audience appreciated, for example, the woman was just looking for “… a smile and an egg cream…” Mark is also known for his wonderful, original Christmas tunes, and he sang the sweet “Santa Has a Present Just for You.”

Karen Daly.

Cambodian-American poet and writer Pichchenda Bao says her work deals with the interwoven nature of grief, resilience, survivor’s guilt, generational divides, wonder and the everyday. An “everyday” poem, “Running Under the 7 Train,” captured a mother’s tenderness and alarm watching her child run. In another poem, she invoked her refugee origin story. Featured in many publications, exhibitions, and events, Pichchenda has received fellowships and support from Aspen Words, Kundiman, Bethany Arts Community, and Queens Council on the Arts. More at http://www.pichchendabao.com.

Poet Jared Harél, one of the talented award-winning poets from the Queens group, read poems about his daughter, from his latest collection, “Let Our Bodies Change the Subject,” winner of the Raz/Shumaker Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. These poems from his well-praised book captures the joy and poignancy of fatherhood, as on a trip to Coney Island, his young daughter notices the “Sad Rollercoaster.” Jared teaches writing. More at http://jaredharel.com

An ASCAP award-winning Irish songwriter, author, actor and food artisan John Munnelly never stops entertaining or helping IAW&A with our tech needs. In between, he’s mixing up his famous Hot Sauce (see hattwood.com) or writing on his Substack blog at  https://johnmunnelly.substack.com John sang two original songs —“Oisin, Think I'm Going Back” and “The Donkey Song” — from his current off-off Broadway show “My Thanksgiving Recipe (Chaos is the point)”.  Weekend performances are on until Dec. 9. Information here: https://www.irteinfo.com/schedule   

In the ultimate IAW&A/Queens Writers Lab collaboration, John and Vaughn teamed up to sing the 90’s classic from Oasis “Wonderwall,” bringing the afternoon to an upbeat close.