new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

Black historian traces her family’s move west; quaffing Joyce

The members of the Thirsty Scholars reading group, started at the Somerville pub of the same name, are marking the end of their in-depth reading of “Finnegans Wake” by James Joyce.
Michele McDonald for the boston globe
The members of the Thirsty Scholars reading group, started at the Somerville pub of the same name, are marking the end of their in-depth reading of “Finnegans Wake” by James Joyce. Each member of the book club has a copy of Joyce’s 600-plus page work that is filled with annotations. The group started reading the book in 2010 — for the second time.

Focusing on families after
the Civil War

Historian Kendra Field’s probing and powerful first book,Growing Up with the Country: Family, Race, and Nation after the Civil War’’ (Yale) follows the stories of her ancestors as they move west in the first 50 years after emancipation.

Leaving the South, they settle on native-owned land in Oklahoma, part of the onset of all-black towns and settlements.

Field, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts, excavates the stories of these families, the complexities of land ownership, and how the search for oil, burgeoning statehood, and Jim Crow pushed many people to initiate the back-to-Africa movement.


With nuance and deep scholarship, Field braids black, Indian, and white histories, and suggests that “the ubiquity of the slavery-freedom binary . . . has obscured not only the ways in which freedom often looked like slavery, but the tremendous diversity within the experiences of freedpeople.”

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Field will discuss her book on Feb. 20 at 6 pm at the Massachusetts Historical Society and will be part of a panel discussion titled “Public Amnesias” with Kerri Greenidge, Aditi Mehta, and James Rice on Feb. 21 at 4:30 at the Raab Room at Tufts’s Tisch College of Civic Life.

Book club dives deep into Joyce — again

The Thirsty Scholars is a book club devoted to reading a single book. For over 20 years, they’ve been meeting weekly — at various locations, though originally at the Thirsty Scholar pub in Somerville — to read and discuss James Joyce’s churning, circling, challenging magnum opus Finnegans Wake.’’ Joyce scholars estimate it includes bits from about 60 languages; there are allusions in almost every sentence; the entendres aren’t double but triple and quadruple. It took the Scholars 13 years to get through it the first time, four years less than it took Joyce to write it. They’re getting faster: They started the 600-plus pager again in 2010 and have just made their way fully through it. And they’re throwing a party and performance to celebrate. On Wednesday Feb. 21 at 7:15 pm at the Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Cambridge, the Here Comes Everybody Players will present “The Complete Works of James Joyce in Under 60 Minutes,’’ with music, which includes excerpts from The Dubliners,’’A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,’’ Ulysses,’’ Exiles,’’ and, of course, “Finnegans Wake.’’ It’s free and you’re welcome to BYOB.

Literary grants awarded

The National Endowment for the Arts recently announced 48 recipients of grants in its literature category, awarding $1.1 million to organizations around the country. In New England, a number of publishing houses, small presses, literary magazines, and organizations received funding, including the poetry press Alice James Books in Farmington, Maine ($20,000); the Massachusetts Review ($10,000); the New England Review based at Middlebury College ($10,000); the Common literary magazine at Amherst College ($10,000); Tupelo Press in North Adams ($20,000); and Wesleyan University Press ($15,000).

Coming out

Wrestling with the Devil: A Prison Memoir’’ by Ngugi wa Thiong’o (New Press)


The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq’’ by Dunya Mikhail, translated from the Arabic by Max Weiss (New Directions)

Welcome to Lagos’’ by Chibundu Onuzo (Catapult)

Pick of the week

Emma Ramadan at Riffraff in Providence recommends Prelude to Bruise’’ by Saeed Jones (Coffeehouse): “One man’s journey as a gay black man in the South. These poems soothe, seethe, and hurt. Filled with sonic word play and stunning language.”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at