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A rich, varied poetry anthology, updates from local bookstores, and an honor for author Annette Gordon-Reed

Annette Gordon-Reed will be awarded the 2021 Governor's Award in the Humanities by Mass Humanities.Tony Rinaldo

Verse for the worst

It is poetry that best expresses the inexpressible, putting words to what is impossible to name, and in the inexpressible soup, some of the main ingredients have to do with the darker parts of our experience: grief, guilt, rage, shame, and fear. Robert Pinsky, Cambridge resident, BU professor, and three-time Poet Laureate of the United States, has edited a rich, varied, and timely anthology, released originally in 2019, and coming out in paperback now. “The Book of Poetry for Hard Times” (Norton) traffics, in Pinsky’s words, in “the relief, even pleasure, available from poetry that confronts the extremes.” Dante and Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson and Sappho, Rita Dove, Tony Hoagland, Gwendolyn Brooks, Shane McCrae, Keetje Kuipers, and many others, wade into the murk and tumult, the restless nights, the seams torn, the heated flash of fury, and the low dull throb of seeking meaning and meaning being no where to be found. “Dark, dark my light,” writes Theodore Roethke, “and darker my desire. / My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly, / Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?” Porter Square Books will host a virtual reading in support of the launch on Friday, October 1, at 7 p.m., with Pinsky, as well as contributors Dan Chiasson, John Murillo, Jill McDonough, and Rowan Ricardo Phillips. To register, visit


A bouquet of bookstores

In bookstore news across New England, Buzzards Bay welcomes Footprints Café, Books and Coffee, a Black-owned, woman-owned bookstore which focuses on authors of color. The shop, which opened in April, is owned and run by Stefanie Corbin. Initial feedback suggested that opening a bookstore which aims its attention on people of color might not succeed in a community that is 92% white. Corbin thought otherwise, and she’s been proven right. She has plans to add a café to the shop soon. At the tip of the Cape, the Provincetown Bookshop, which has been open since 1932, recently found a new owner. Barbara Clarke, of Boston and Provincetown, runs a venture capital fund focused on women-run tech startups, particularly ones led by women of color and from the LGBTQ communities. She bought the store from Philip Swayze, who’s been running it since 2014, after taking it over from his uncles, who’d been running it since 1963. The store will change locations, and Clarke is currently looking for spaces to buy in the West End. Another woman-owned bookstore just opened up in Presque Isle, Maine. Neighborhood Books Maine, owned and run by Laura Hale, opened earlier this month.


A prize for Gordon-Reed

Historian, professor, and author Annette Gordon-Reed has been awarded the 2021 Governor’s Award in the Humanities from Mass Humanities. Gordon-Reed, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for her 2008 book “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family” (Norton). She’s also been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the National Humanities Medal, and a MacArthur Fellowship, among other prizes and awards. Mass Humanities awards the prize each year, recognizing the recipients’ “public actions, grounded in an appreciation of the humanities, to enhance civic life in the Commonwealth.” Gordon-Reed will be honored, alongside three other recipients — John Burgess, Sonia Nieto, and Heather Cox Richardson — in a virtual awards ceremony on October 24 at 5 p.m. For more information, visit


Coming Out

H of H Playbookby Anne Carson (New Directions)

Speak, Silence: In Search of W. G. Sebaldby Carole Angier (Bloomsbury)

Such Colorby Tracy K. Smith (Graywolf)

Pick of the Week

Connor Johnston of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, recommends “Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures” by Merlin Sheldrake (Random House): “The story of fungi evolves throughout the book as you learn about its eon-spanning history as well as its future consuming our post-consumer waste. The answer to all of life’s questions seem to be found in fungi — the largest kingdom of living organisms. ‘Entangled Life’ will open your eyes to the stunning complexity of our world and make you question many preconceived notions of your place on Earth.”

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