“A People’s Guide to Greater Boston” (University of California) is not a glossy pit of tired tourist pap. It’s a history lesson with a point of view, shining light on the city’s radical past, highlighting protests and movements and the power people of Boston have had in shaping the place they live. Authors Joseph Nevins, who grew up in Dorchester; Suren Moodilar, an activist and editor who lives in Chelsea; and Cambridge native and Harvard grad Eleni Macrakis write of sites like Grove Hall in Dorchester, where in June 1967, 50 protestors locked themselves in to demand welfare reform and were pulled out violently by police, leading to three days of rioting. Or of the Middle East Nightclub in Cambridge, which used to be home to “Old Mole,” an underground newspaper that called itself “a radical biweekly.” The book is a comprehensive exploration of Boston, its neighborhoods, and its nearby towns—Waltham, Lynn, Concord, the North and South Shores. The book pulls the curtain back on the city’s history of furthering the inequality of a capitalist world economy and perpetrating violence against natural resources. “A people’s perspective privileges the desires, hopes, and struggles of those on the receiving end of unjust forms of power and those who work to challenge such inequalities” aiming for a place “that is radically inclusive and democratic and that centers on social and environmental justice.” It’s a timely, intelligent, and necessary guide, one that deepens our understanding of where we live now and reminds us of the power that regular citizens have to work against powers and systems that are, now as then, in urgent need of change.
“I claim no special powers; nor do I know how to handle death any better than you,” writes Harvard grad and ER doctor Michele Harper in her wise and elegant debut memoir, “The Beauty in Breaking” (Riverhead), which comes out this week. Harper writes of cultivating a state of stillness, one that serves her well in the ER, and one she learned in childhood living with an abusive, battering father. She writes candidly of what it is to be Black in the primarily white medical system, the lie of a post-racial America, and a glass ceiling for women that doesn’t so much shatter as bow. Wrenching scenes are balanced with Harper’s confident, steady and steadying prose. “It is only in silence that horror can persist,” she writes. With wisdom and generosity, she shows how our wounds—physical and emotional—unite us, and that we have to see where we’re broken in order to heal.
Fellowships and grants
The Mass Cultural Council recently announced the recipients of its annual artist fellowships for fiction and creative non-fiction. Out of over 600 applications, the judges selected 13 Massachusetts-based writers. Seven writers were awarded grants of $15k each, including Morris Collins of Boston, Kelle Groom of Provincetown, Daniel E. Robb of Amherst, Whitney Scharer of Arlington, Emily Shelton of Cambridge, Ann Ward of Shutesbury, and Linda Woolford of Andover. Six writers were awarded $1500, including Robert Dall of Cambridge, Justine Dymond of Belchertown, Amanda L. Giracca of Great Barrington, Matthew Muller of Pittsfield, Chivas Sandage of Northampton, and Alyssa Songsiridej of Cambridge. The National Endowment for the Arts also recently announced their grants awarded to literary arts organizations around the country. In New England, the Boston Book Festival received a $15k grant. Grub Street receives $45k. And the Telling Room in Portland, Maine receives $15k.
“Want” by Lynn Steger Strong (Henry Holt)
“Last One Out Shut Off the Lights” by Stephanie Soileau (Little, Brown)
“A Mind Spread Out on the Ground” by Alicia Elliott (Melville House)
Pick of the Week Roxie Mack at Broadside Books in Northampton, Massachusetts, recommends “I Hotel” by Karen Tei Yamashita (Coffee House): “‘I Hotel’ is a fictional account of the lives of Asian-American activists in the late 60s and early 70s. Mirroring the fearless experimentalism of the time, Yamashita tells the story using a mix of narrative, drama, and real and fictionalized documentary passages. The story, based in many instances on actual incidents, traces the intertwined lives of a generation of Chinese, Japanese, Pilipino, and Korean revolutionaries. She brings to light intriguing parallels between the then-emerging Black Power movement and the Asian activists.”