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The Word on the Street

Boston Public Library exhibit looks at city’s literary life between Revolution and Civil War

Robert Segal

Authors and editors (clockwise, from bottom left) Phillis Wheatley, Judith Sargent Murray, Susanna Rowson, Charles Sprague, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edgar Allan Poe, Lydia Maria Child, Bishop Benedict J. Fenwick.

Boston College English professor Paul Lewis, who has done as much as anyone to draw attention to Edgar Allan Poe’s ties to Boston, is the force behind “Forgotten Chapters of Boston’s Literary History,’’ a new exhibit at the Boston Public Library. In researching the city’s literary life between the American Revolution and the Civil War, Lewis enlisted the help of his students at BC. Some of them will discuss their discoveries and recite early American poems as part of the opening night festivities on Wednesday.

The exhibit examines writers whose stories have fallen from the city’s memory, writers such as Charles Sprague, known as the “Banker Poet of Boston,’’ and Susanna Haswell Rowson, the British-American author of the best-selling seduction novel “Charlotte Temple.’’ It highlights the rise of children’s literature and the challenges that faced African-Americans, women, and Irish authors.

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The exhibit will be open from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday. The program begins at 7. Matthew Pearl will give a talk titled “The Old Corner: How a Modest Bookstore Defined a Boston Literary Epoch.’’ The exhibit continues through July 30.

PEN award winners

This is the season for literary awards. The winners of two prestigious honors conferred by New England organizations will be celebrated at 1:30 p.m. on April 1 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Dorchester.

Yannick Murphy’s novel “The Call’’ draws on the stories her husband brings home from his veterinarian practice in rural Vermont. Structured as the log of a vet’s house calls and ruminations, it captures the connections and divisions of small-town life and the ups and downs of his young family.

“The Call’’ (Harper Perennial) is the fiction winner of the Laurence L. & Thomas Winship/PEN New England Awards, celebrating the best works by New England authors. The other winners are poet Elizabeth Willis, who teaches at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., for “Address’’ (Wesleyan University) and, in the nonfiction category, Mitchell Zuckoff, who teaches at Boston University, for “Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II’’ (Harper).

Also on April 1, the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for a debut work of fiction will go to Teju Cole for “Open City’’ (Random House). In announcing the award, judge Andre Dubus III, who will be the keynote speaker, said Cole’s novel, narrated by a lonely Nigerian doctor who wanders the streets of New York City, “achieves what Kafka said art should; it chops the frozen sea within us.’’

Advance registration for the awards ceremony is recommended. Details at www.jfklibrary.org.

A poets’ poet

Thomas Lux, a Northampton native whose poems range in subject matter from foolish love to political folly to close observation of nature, will receive the 12th annual Robert Creeley Award at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School in Acton.

Coming out

■“Betrayal’’ by Danielle Steel (Delacorte)

■“A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy’’by Helen Rappaport (St. Martin’s)

■“What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness’’by Candia McWilliam (Harper)

Pick of the week

Ellen Meeropol of Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley recommends “Growing Up Delicious’’ by Marianne Banks (Bella): “Set in Western Massachusetts, this debut novel is about coming out, coming home, and revising your personal history in the process. It made me laugh out loud and weep, and I wish I could read it again for the first time.’’

Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter @JanLGardner.
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