Keystone instructor nominated for prestigious award
BY CAITLIN HEANEY
Brian Fanelli knows well the people and streets of Scranton, a city where he grew up and whose working-class side winds its way into the fabric of his poems.
At 28, he already has established himself as one of Northeast Pennsylvania’s most prominent writers, publishing his work in esteemed literary magazines and sharing it with the public at readings around the region. And now Fanelli, who also is an English instructor at Keystone College, has been nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize for his poem “After Working Hours,” which was published in Boston Literary Magazine.
Small-press editors nominate writers of poetry, essays, short fiction and other literature for the prize, given annually. If he wins, Fanelli will receive a monetary award, and his work will be published in a national anthology. He was thrilled and surprised to learn of his nomination.
“It was a nice early Christmas gift,” said Fanelli, who now lives in Kingston.
Working class background
The son of Carmel Fanelli and the late Frank Fanelli, Fanelli grew up in a blue-collar Scranton family with his two brothers and two sisters. Reading was part of his life since childhood, and he believes the more people read, the better their own writing will become.
“When I was in high school, my mom would go to yard sales and flea markets and just buy books for me because she knew I love to read,” Fanelli recalled.
After his family moved to Lenox Twp., he graduated from Mountain View High School and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature from West Chester University. He delved into creative writing while in college and was drawn to poetry because of the challenge it presented and its musicality.
Fanelli spent some time working as a reporter for a daily newspaper in West Chester before returning to Northeast Pennsylvania to attend graduate school. He earned a master’s degree in fine arts from Wilkes University’s creative writing program and joined Keystone’s faculty in August 2009. He said he always knew he wanted to teach, something many other poets tend to do.
“You have to have another job,” Fanelli said. “You have to have something to pay the bills. … You’re not going to get rich off of poetry.”
Fanelli teaches literature, composition, technical writing and creative writing, his favorite subject to instruct.
“When I discover a poem that moves me, I want to share his or her work with my class,” he said.
What he enjoys most about Keystone is the small class sizes, which allows him to get to know his students well, and he has been able to keep in touch with some them after they graduate.
Fanelli, who hopes to stay at Keystone as long as possible, also co-hosts a literary reading series at New Visions Studio & Gallery in Scranton, giving local writers as well as his Keystone students a chance to share their work and see how the public responds. Sometimes Fanelli reads his own rough drafts to get feedback, and he pointed out how public readings also can be beneficial for writers because it puts their faces and names out there, especially considering the publishing industry’s present struggles.
“If you don’t get out there and do readings, you’re never going to sell any books,” Fanelli said.
Lots of rejections
Describing himself as a narrative and lyric poet, Fanelli has had work published in literary magazines such as The Portland Review and San Pedro River Review.
“I got, at first, a lot of rejections,” Fanelli said. “I still get a lot of rejections. Everyone does, no matter the level you’re at.”
Inspiration for his work comes from music as well as Northeast Pennsylvania, and he noted his poems reflect the area’s working class. He grew up going to music shows around Scranton and hanging out with artistic friends, and people he knows have sometimes wound up inspiring characters in his writing. Having a local group of friends is important for anyone who wants to be a writer, Fanelli said, also pointing out that his mother has always been supportive of him and his work.
“She’s allowed me to make my own choices,” he said.
His first book, “Front Man,” was well received and helped him establish connections around the country’s Northeast thanks to the public readings that followed. Touring is one of his favorite aspects of being a poet because he gets to meet other writers and exchange ideas with them, and he travels a lot during the summer and on school breaks, too, finding it tends to help his work.
“It leaves me clearheaded and ready to write,” he said.
He plans to release a second compilation of poems, tentatively titled “All That Remains,” later this year. And this month, Fanelli begins the next step of his education at Binghamton University, State University of New York, where he will spend the next few years pursuing a doctorate in English with a writing concentration. He went for the extra degree because he wanted to take more literature classes and expand his knowledge, he said.
While he is a little nervous about starting the program since he has not been in a traditional classroom in a while, Fanelli also is “excited to be part of that community.” He already has learned how to balance writing with teaching and plans to just “carve out” some more time for his doctoral studies.
“I’m ready to do it and just plunge in,” he said.
Meet Brian Fanelli
Home: A Scranton native, he now lives in Kingston.
Family: The son of Carmel Fanelli and the late Frank Fanelli, he has two brothers, two sisters and a girlfriend, Jenna Casaldi.
Education: He graduated from Mountain View High School and West Chester University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature. He also has a master’s degree in fine arts from Wilkes University’s creative writing program and is pursuing a doctorate in English with a writing concentration at Binghamton University, State University of New York.
Occupation: He is an English instructor at Keystone College and is a published poet.
Hobbies: Traveling, collecting records, going to the movies, hiking and camping.