SCSU Graduate Student, A West Haven Resident, Wins Prestigious Poetry Prize
Overnight success isn’t usually what it appears to be—it’s often preceded by years of patient, persistent work. Such is the case of West Haven resident Tony Fusco, a graduate student in creative writing at Southern Connecticut State University, who recently won first place in the prestigious 2003 Sunken Garden Poetry Festival Competition, which is co-sponsored by Farmington’s Hill-Stead Museum and The Hartford Courant’s “Northeast” magazine. As first-place winner, Fusco will read two of his winning poems in the poetry festival on Aug. 20, and the CSU literary journal Connecticut Review will publish the poems—“The Guest Upstairs” and “The Litany of Streets”—in its fall 2003 issue.
Fusco has been writing poetry for years, and he has worked hard for this recognition. The Sunken Garden festival takes place during the summer months on the Hill-Stead grounds, and it is, says Fusco, “the biggest and best venue for poetry in Connecticut. I’ll get to read two poems there, and two or three thousand people listen to you read, plus it’s on public radio. That many people coming out to hear poetry is wonderful.”
This year, Sunken Garden is linked for the first time with Connecticut Review, which is edited by SCSU English Professor and poet Vivian Shipley. Shipley and Sunken Garden Director Alison Meyers have joined forces so that winners of this year’s Sunken Garden competition will be published in the fall issue of Connecticut Review, after reading their winning poems at the festival.
Shipley, a widely recognized poet and editor, says she is “really thrilled” that Fusco won the competition, saying, “This is a major thing he’s won.” Shipley adds, “It’s prestigious to get to read there. They have national figures come to read.” She describes Fusco as being very active in the graduate writing program and in the Connecticut poetry world. “Poetry shapes so much of what Tony does.” He is, she says, “an example of an older student who returns to school and can achieve. He’s a mature writer who’s been working at this for years.” Fusco is 52.
As an undergraduate at SCSU—he graduated in 1973—Fusco was the editor of the undergraduate newspaper and majored in social work. He started writing poetry in high school. Before entering SCSU’s graduate English program, Fusco participated in a number of workshops and writers’ groups and won some awards for his writing. He came to SCSU “to take it to the next level. The reason I came here is to take a workshop with Vivian Shipley.”
In addition to working with students, Shipley regularly brings poets and editors to SCSU to meet with students and discuss their work with them. Fusco says, “That kind of stuff is invaluable—you get to network, and the editors workshop your work and give you constructive criticism. Everyone is encouraged. Everyone gets positive criticism.”
Fusco describes his poems as narratives about his family and his memories of growing up in West Haven. “I used to write about mythology and more esoteric subjects. Vivian told me to concentrate on my family and my background as subjects because I do them well.” Shipley says that she has worked with Fusco on writing about what he knows best, and now in his writing he is “detailing and preserving his heritage. I’m really proud of the work that he’s done.”
Fusco is also a freelance photographer and writer for local newspapers, a cartoonist and a pen and ink and multimedia artist. He works at the Yale Medical Group in New Haven and created the Yale Physicians Building Art Place Web site and the documentary “Art Place: The Quilters @ Yale,” which was broadcast by Citizen’s Television. Fusco does videography and has a public access television show, “West Shore Poets.”
Fusco has been working on his M.A. degree for about three years, taking one class a semester. He will graduate in January. His thesis, a book of poems, has been recommended for distinction, and he plans to publish it. Shipley says that he is already actively pursuing leads as to where to get the book published.
“He’s worked hard and persevered, and he’s talented, says Shipley. “Sometimes the development of talent takes some time.”