In 1980, a young Lesléa Newman sat across the table from Allen Ginsberg with a mountain of letters between them. As his apprentice, Newman was in charge of answering letters from an array of fans, ranging from politicians to aspiring young poets. Though Ginsberg gave each letter equal care and attention, it was one particular letter from a publisher that would make the difference for Newman. The letter requested poems from her mentor but at his suggestion, Newman sent the publisher a couple of her own poems. Her submissions ended up with the publication of her first book, Just Looking for My Shoes.

Decades later, Lesléa Newman is a veteran in the publishing world, with over 55 books in print. Her works dive into nearly every genre of writing, from children's picture books to teen novels, adult fiction, humor and poetry. Some of her most popular books include Heather Has Two Mommies and A Letter to Harvey Milk. The latter is a compilation of short stories that explore familial issues and the Holocaust. The novel was titled after her first short story, which went on to win critical acclaim and was eventually adapted for the film and stage. "I'm very happy that I can do my part in keeping the name and spirit of Harvey Milk alive, as he was such an important person who worked tirelessly for gay rights," she said. Though the book was published in 2004, it lives on today in anthologies and college courses. Newman's work is outstanding, as it captures life on the printed page, and often tackles tough issues of lesbian and Jewish identity, family and love.

After her first publication of poems in Seventeen at the ripe age of 18, Newman went on to study creative writing with David Huddle at the University of Vermont. In 1977, Newman moved to Boulder, where she studied at the Naropa Institute and completed her apprenticeship with Ginsberg. Years later, Newman struggled to make ends meet working temp jobs as a secretary in New York City, when she decided to move. She wrote to many friends across the country, and one responded with an invitation to Northampton, MA. Lesléa packed up her bags in 1983 and has lived in the Pioneer Valley ever since. "I feel so nurtured as an artist, the community has given me so much," she said.

In 2008, the city named Newman its official poet laureate. Though the role of poet laureate is purely self-defined, the active author has decided to take on many initiatives to promote poetry and give back to the community. She publishes a biweekly poetry column in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, sponsors the new Paradise Poetry Prize and speaks to interested groups in her Laureate Lunch Series. The series has sparked visits to many diverse and fun places, from senior citizen homes and synagogues, to a women's outdoor group. Newman's goal is to share the joy of literature with as many people as possible. "There is a lot of talk about how the industry is struggling and how the novel is dying," she said. "But I think there will always be a core group of people who realize that literature can change lives and enlarge your world."

"There is nothing more inspiring than connecting with someone who is as passionate about literature is I am," she said. Newman has been a member of a writing group for ten years, where writers share good food, gossip, recent ideas and new works. "It's sort of a family," Newman said. She speaks fondly of her writing group peers, which include other prominent Valley authors such as Mount Holyoke professor of English Corinne Demas. One can learn from Newman that writing is about sharing, as she shares her passion with her students, readers and the community everyday.

Newman acknowledges the changes that have taken place in the publishing industry since she began but believes one factor has stayed, and will always remain. "Your work has to be fantastic," she said. Newman makes sure her stories come from the heart, and keeps one mantra in all of her work. "I try to write the most interesting story in the most beautiful and truthful way I can."

Newman's newest book, The Reluctant Daughter, depicts the struggles between Lydia, a lesbian feminist scholar, and her mother, Doris, when she learns of a life threatening illness. The book will be released Sept. 15, 2009.