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NEW ENGLAND LITERARY NEWS

An award for immigrant writing, an essay contest devoted to tales of Black joy, and new poetry from a longtime Boston resident

Rajiv Mohabir's hybrid memoir has won the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.
Rajiv Mohabir's hybrid memoir has won the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.JORDAN MILES

Laurels for Mohabir

Restless Books, founded in 2013 as antidote to a myopic and homogenous American literary landscape, recently announced that Rajiv Mohabir, poet and assistant professor at Emerson College, is the winner of their annual Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing. Mohabir’s memoir, “Antiman,” which will be published in June, moves across countries — India, Guyana, Canada, the U.S. — and genres — poetry, prose, myth, and family history — to tell the story of his experience growing up across cultures and wanting to learn more about the Hindu history his family, living as Guyanese Indian immigrants in Florida, left behind. He reckons with racism, with homophobia (the title is a Caribbean slur for a man who loves men), and with a pervasive feeling of being an outsider. With tenacity and exuberance, and dancing between a number of languages and dialects, Mohabir comes to claim his own identity, finding firmer footing in the world. Local author Grace Talusan’s acclaimed memoir “The Body Papers” won the prize in 2017.

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Joyful

September 12 of 2020 was declared Black Joy Day in Boston, and with it, a writing contest was announced, sponsored by Thaddeus Miles, Grub Street, MBK Boston, 826 Boston, and the Black Joy Project. The Writing Black Joy Contest invited writers from New England and New York to submit essays between 500 and 1000 words exploring Black joy, and the winning essays have recently been announced. First prize, and $1000, go to Jacqueline Reason for “House Parties,” about food and community, looking back through the lens of childhood. Second prize, and $750, go to Yawa Degboe for “Breakdance.” And Kandice A. Summer took third place, and $500, for “Black Joi.” T.S.E. Allen, Dr. Brandi Monique Derr, and Keena Keel all received honorable mentions. The contest judge, author Lauren Wilkinson, said her criteria for choosing the winning essays “was relatively simple: ultimately, I went with the stories that made me happiest.” You can read the winning essays at grubstreet.org/blog.

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Flesh and bot

Rebecca Morgan Frank’s fourth collection of poetry, “Oh You Robot Saints!” (Carnegie Mellon), out earlier this month, concerns itself with the intersection of metal and flesh. In lines about a robotic swan or a “mechanical Eve” or robobees buzzing around, Frank, who now lives in Chicago but was a longtime Boston resident, picks at the tension between born and unborn, magic and science, fertility and sterility, the sexed and the sexless, the lifeless, the living, and the never-lived. She notes the dilemma of the automaton: “I’ve already made her a living a death— / she’ll never fly or make life, as I have.” The poet will make life, a power over the lifeless machine, but no matter what, it’s a finite one. Frank moves between moments of quiet confessional, eating cupcakes at a diner with a pal after an invasive disappointment of a medical procedure, to pounding truths: “Sometimes discovery is quiet, / sometimes simultaneous and loud.” Here, the worms become gods, “servicing our reincarnation,” and Frank asks, “Are we the worm / or the robot shell?” That she reckons with the machine makes the aliveness of her voice, the heat behind it, all the more evident, and all the more urgent.

Coming Out

The Soul of a Womanby Isabel Allende (Ballantine)

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Spilt Milk: Memoirsby Courtney Zoffness (McSweeney’s)

What’s Mine and Yoursby Naima Coster (Grand Central)

Pick of the Week

Bob Ryan at Wakefield Books in Wakefield, Rhode Island, recommends “The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket” by Benjamin Lorr (Avery): “It’s a wild history of the innovations, marketing and supply chain secrets from the earliest forms of grocery stores to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods and everyone in between. But it’s also a story of us and our practices and tastes as consumers. Weird and funny but sometimes dark and disturbing, the author — ever curious — examines his subject from all angles.”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Wake, Siren.” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.