The Mass Cultural Council recently announced the recipients of its annual artist fellowships for poetry. The judges selected 24 Massachusetts-based poets. Nine were awarded fellowship grants of $15,000 each, including Claudia Wilson of Northampton, Danielle Legros Georges of Boston, Fay Ferency of Hull, Jessica Rizkallah of Boston, JR Mahung of Boston, Levi Cain of Boston, Rajiv Mohabir of Malden, Tatiana Johnson-Boria of Framingham, and Wendy Drexler of Belmont. In addition, 15 poets were awarded $5,000 each, including D. Eric Parkison of Lynn, Daniel Johnson of Boston, Danielle Jones of Salem, Elizabeth Bradfield of Truro, Janet MacFadyen of Amherst, Jennifer Jean of Peabody, Joy Ladin of Hadley, Julia Story of Somerville, Karina Borowicz of Belchertown, Kevin McLellan of Cambridge, L.S. McKee of Cambridge, Margot Douaihy of Northampton, Regie F. Gibson of Lexington, Shauna Barbosa of Boston, and Xiaoly Li of Wilmington. In additional awards news, Grace Tulusan was awarded a USA Fellowship, which includes an unrestricted $50,000 prize.
Return of a literary milestone
Harriet E. Wilson, born in New Hampshire in 1825, was the first African American to publish a novel in North America, and the first Black woman to publish a novel in English. “Our Nig, or Sketches in the Life of a Free Black” was originally published in 1859 in Boston, and was discovered by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in 1982. A rare first edition of the book, found in a safe when a woman was cleaning out her husband’s estate in California. It has been returned to Wilson’s native state of New Hampshire, given to Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire which celebrated the book’s arrival with a ceremonial reading in Milford, New Hampshire, where Wilson was born, and where, in 2006, the Harriet Wilson Project commissioned a statue of Wilson sculpted by artist Fern Cunningham for Bicentennial Park. Wilson’s novel was not widely circulated during her lifetime, and scholars have argued that other works more rightly rank as the first novel published by an African American in the US, suggesting that Wilson’s work was primarily autobiographical. Gates suggested that works of fiction of that time period often drew on autobiographical details. Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire offers tours of Milford, highlighting 300 years of African American history and heritage. For more visit blackheritagetrailnh.org.
BPL honors BHM
The Boston Public Library celebrates Black History Month with a series of events and a curated reading list that includes 70 books that explore various aspects of the Black experience. On February 7 at 6:30 pm, the BPL’s Nutrition Lab will host a virtual event on “Plant-Based Eating in the African Diaspora,” which involve a cook-along. Registration is required. On February 28 at 6 pm, author Linda Hirshman will discuss her new book, “The Color of Abolition: How a Printer, a Prophet, and a Contessa Moved a Nation” (Mariner) in a virtual conversation with L’Merchie Frazier. The staff-curated “Black Is…” reading list includes Tarana Burke’s “Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Notes on Grief,” Onaje X. O. Woodbine’s “Take Back What the Devil Stole: An African American Prophet’s Encounters in the Spirit World,” Kendra Allen’s “The Collection Plate,” and many others. For more information visit bpl.org.
“Cleopatra and Frankenstein” by Coco Mellors (Bloomsbury)
“Be Here to Love Me at the End of the World” by Sasha Fletcher (Melville House)
“Nightshift” by Kiare Ladner (Custom House)
Pick of the Week
Ellis McNeiece at Trident Booksellers in Boston, recommends “Small Island” by Andrea Levy (Picador): “Set in London in 1948, ‘Small Island’ is told from the alternating perspectives of four people: two freshly-married Jamaican immigrants, Hortense and Gilbert, and an older English white couple, Queenie and Bernard. By alternating viewpoints, Levy exposes the racism inherent in British culture, and the ways in which Black people struggled to find work and respect in England post-WWII. Beautifully told, this is a modern classic.”