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New England Literary News

Representative Ayanna Pressley writes of Dorchester in the foreword to “We Hope You’ll Visit.”
Representative Ayanna Pressley writes of Dorchester in the foreword to “We Hope You’ll Visit.”UMass Amherst

Writing Dorchester

In the foreword to “We Hope You’ll Visit,” a new book put out by 826 Boston written by 50 students of the Lilla G. Frederick Middle School, Representative Ayanna Pressley writes that no place better represents the “rich history, vibrant present, and exciting future” of the 7th District than Dorchester. The guide book highlights a number of locations in Dorchester neighborhoods, like Freedom House and the programs it offers; the history, playgrounds, fields (baseball, soccer) and courts (tennis, basketball) of Franklin Park; you’ll learn that the lions at the zoo sleep 20 hours a day, and “rusty old cages . . . up a hill in the woods” to the north of the stadium used to be bear dens and were abandoned in 1971. The students write of the libraries; the Dorchester North Burying Ground; the Dorchester Art Project; VietAID, which offers resources for Vietnamese immigrants; the iconic gas tank Rainbow Swash; and Found in Translation, which “trains low-income, bilingual women to become medical interpreters,” among a number of other organizations, landmarks, and attractions. “We want to show people how much there is to do here and where people can go if they want to relax, get help, get food, or get an education,” writes the student editorial board. “We want people to know that Dorchester is a social community where people help and protect each other.”

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Eating New England

In “The Truth About Baked Beans: An Edible History of New England” (New York University), Meg Muckenhoupt reveals the stories behind iconic New England foods — including baked beans, brown bread, clams, cod and lobsters, Vermont cheese, apples, cranberries, maple syrup, pies, and Yankee pot roast — to be fictions, not the result of the friendly feast of the first Thanksgiving and breaking bread with Indians, but based instead on Victorian notions of New England which excluded the foods that were being made by the people who actually inhabited the region. And besides dispelling “the accumulated myths about who collected, concocted, grew, and digested New England’s food,” the book includes a number of recipes reflecting the range of dishes on New England tables, from Auntie Laura’s Gufong/Fungine (Cape Verdean fried dough) to pierogi to stuffed peppers with anchovies and olives to the Fall River chow mein sandwich to bran muffins and, yes, baked beans.

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Mass. book prizes

The Massachusetts Center for the Book has announced the winners of the Massachusetts Book Awards for books published in 2019. The awards honor books by residents, or about Massachusetts subjects. In fiction, Ocean Vuong took the prize for “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” (Penguin). In nonfiction, Grace Talusan earned another accolade for her memoir “The Body Papers” (Restless). Kerri K. Greenidge’s “Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter” (Liveright) and Holly Jackson’s “American Radicals: How 19th-Century Protest Shaped the Nation” (Crown) received nonfiction honors. In poetry, Karen Skolfield’s collection “Battle Dress” (Norton) won this year, with Oliver de la Paz’s “The Boy in the Labyrinth” (University of Akron) and Andrea Cohen’s “Nightshade” (Four Way) taking honors. In the picture book/early reader category, Raúl the Third won for “¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market” (Versify), and in the middle grade/YA category, Lynda Mullaly Hunt won for “Shouting at the Rain” (Penguin). Normally the authors would be honored at a ceremony at the State House; a virtual awards page will take the place of an in-person event this year. It can be found at massbook.org.

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Coming out

Expositionby Nathalie Leger (Dorothy)

Long Live the Post Horn!by Vigdis Hjorth (Verso)

The Caretakerby Doon Arbus (New Directions)


Pick of the week

Rachel S. at the Harvard Book Store recommends “Savage Conversations” by LeAnne Howe (Coffee House): “In May of 1875, Mary Todd Lincoln is confined to an insane asylum. There, she is haunted by a ‘Savage Indian’ who scalps her nightly and sews her eyes open. In Howe’s telling, the specter haunting the widowed first lady is one of the 38 Dakota men hanged in 1862 by her husband in the largest mass execution in American history. I was blown away. Unmoored. Sent spiraling adrift on gusts of wind.”