Literary Boroughs #12: Verona, New Jersey

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Posts are by no means exhaustive and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section. The series will run on our blog from May 2012 until AWP13 in Boston. Please enjoy the twelfth post on Verona, New Jersey by Tracy Bermeo. -Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor

Located about 15 miles west of New York City, Verona sits tucked among the larger towns of Caldwell, birthplace of Grover Cleveland; West Orange, home to Thomas Edison; and Montclair, often referred to as a suburban Hoboken. The “Norman Rockwell setting” of Verona is picturesque on any given day: the neighborhood elementary schools are within walking distance from home, and the beautifully designed storefronts create a welcoming town center. Community spirit is as strong as the draw to Verona Park, which is active year-round with two large playgrounds, tennis courts, paddleboats on the lake in summer, and ice skating in winter.

City: Verona, New Jersey

Resident writers: Our passion for reading and writing is what makes us a literary community. Verona is home to children’s book author, Ed Shankman, and the birthplace of Lynne Barrett, Eileen Curtis, Arlene Gibbs, co-writer of the film Jumping the Broom, Pamela Petro, Connie Springer and Forest F. White who writes poetry for soldiers. We all have stories to tell and these are just some of our authors.

Where to find reading material: The Verona Public Library boasts a vibrant story time program twice each week for the youngest of readers. We have the choice of print or electronic books and an amazing staff who loves their work and will do just about anything to get you a book.

Without our own bookstore, we’ll often end up at Watchung Booksellers in the neighboring town of Montclair. This store is a haven for both children and adults offering lectures, author visits, book signings and bookmark design contests for kids.

Beyond any book store or library, the power of being in a small town loaded with people who love to read is that we share our passion for an amazing book with each other. Without a bookstore as a common meeting place, we talk about books while at school picking up our kids, walking in the park, or spending time where most of us spend it in the summer, the Verona Community Pool. During the summer months, a local volunteer group (C.H.I.L.D.) maintains a rolling book cart with lending services for pool visitors. We’re thirsty for a good book and escaping to the fantasy land that lives in print and has us staying up late and ignoring our kids- surely the signs of a great book.

Non-readers? Yes, we have them too, but thanks to World Book Night, we have fewer of them. In the quiet of Hobcaw Café, an amazing breakfast spot and bakery, 20 copies of The Poisonwood Bible were donated and offered for free to non-readers, reluctant readers, or anyone looking for something different to read. The books disappeared off the shelf and the owner is hoping for the same gift from a local resident next year.

Where to write: The peace of Verona Park is a favorite for writers and painters as much as it is for fishermen and families. Kip’s Castle, overlooking Essex County, would be enough to spark any writer’s imagination. Established in 1907, Verona still has many original houses in town and markers for the Lenape Trail. If inspiration for a haunting tale is what an author needs, the Hilltop Reservation which was home to a sanatorium and patients with Tuberculosis has plenty of dilapidated buildings to set a harrowing scene. Where to let the imagination flow and bring these characters and places to life? Hobcaw Café, Trattoria Bella Gente and Frank Anthony’s provide quiet atmospheres with just enough people watching to inspire writers.

Events and festivals: Our literary festivals and reading celebrations happen in the schools. Writing Workshops were introduced to the curriculum two years ago and the youngest of students begin reading and writing poetry and fiction in first grade. Author visits inspire students and Battle of the Books creates a fun and competitive environment for remembering story details, author’s names and book titles. The One School One Book program initiated a family reading environment for elementary aged students; each night throughout October, students and their parents read one chapter of E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan. There was in-class discussion for the students the next day and the added benefit of family time each night.

Being close to New York City, we have residents who are journalists, authors, illustrators, and editors. But more than our resources, it’s our passion for reading that makes us a literary community.

Next post: August 22 | Los Angeles, California …

Bio: Tracy Bermeo is a write-from-home mother of three. She grew up in Montclair, NJ, received her BA in International Studies from Muhlenberg College in 1992, and after several years living in Manhattan now resides in Verona, NJ. She writes feature stories for an online news site, and maintains her blog: A2ZMommy And What’s In Between. She can be found on Twitter @A2ZMommy.


(All photos are by the author.)


Posts are by no means exhaustive and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section!

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