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New England Literary News

Artist Dahlov Ipcar is profiled in Kathleen Courtenay Stone's new book.Robert Ipcar

Pathbreaking women

As an 8-year-old girl in the mid-20th century, Boston-based lawyer Kathleen Courtenay Stone looked through her father’s law school yearbook and found herself wondering why there were so few women pictured. She asked her parents and got answers that didn’t quite satisfy. She kept wondering what made these women different than the ones she was familiar with — the mothers and housewives at home. What made these women follow a different path? In “They Called Us Girls: Stories of Female Ambition from Suffrage to Mad Men” (Cynren), Stone tries to answer this question, making portraits of seven women who traveled their own roads, defying stereotypes and expectations. A woman “must find a vision for herself and the confidence to realize it,” Stone writes. And how that confidence is found is what she tries to answer. In intimate mini-biographies, Stone explores ambition, immigration, what it is to have people to believe in you and to believe in yourself, and the courage required to live a different way. She writes of artist Dahlov Zorach Ipcar, born in 1917; a Trinidadian doctor named Muriel Petioni, born in 1914; federal judge Rya Weickert Zobel, born in 1931; nonprofit leader Frieda Garcia, born in 1934; and three other accomplished, defiant women.

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Farewell to Atwan

Boston-based nonprofit publisher Beacon Press was founded in 1854 and is known for publishing James Baldwin, Octavia Butler, Howard Zinn, Mary Daly, Mary Oliver, and Viktor Frankl, among others. For the last 26 years, the press has been led by Helene Atwan, and she recently announced her retirement, effective in July. In her quarter-century at the press, Atwan focused on diversity, both in the staff she hired and the books she published, long before the publishing industry at large started to reckon with it. Beacon’s books center on the environment, race, gender and sexuality, economic justice, public health, food justice, immigration, and disability. Atwan oversaw the development of a number of important series, including publishing 14 of the works of Martin Luther King Jr.; the Blue Streak series, focusing on BIPOC women; and 2019′s Celebrating Black Women Writers series. A young adult program was also established by Atwan, and she also made sure Beacon’s books were printed in an ecologically sustainable way. When she took over in 1995, the press was operating in the red; Atwan established an endowment that will allow them to continue to grow and do their important work in the years to come. The press expects to name a new director in April.

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Laurels for Marshall

The Biographers International Organization recently announced that Megan Marshall is the winner of the 13th annual BIO Award, which each year honors “a distinguished colleague who has made major contributions to the advancement of the art and craft of biography.” Marshall, who teaches at Emerson College, is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Margaret Fuller: A New American Life,” “Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast,” and the Pulitzer finalist “The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism.” She’s been awarded numerous prizes and fellowships, and at the Massachusetts Historical Society, Marshall was a founder of the New England Biography Series, which has been offering events on talks related to the practice of biography for over 10 years. Previous winners of the award include Hermione Lee, Stacy Schiff, Ron Chernow, and Robert Caro, among others. “The thought of joining their distinguished company is quite overwhelming,” Marshall said. She’ll give the keynote address at the BIO Conference on May 14.

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Coming out

The Doloriadby Missouri Williams (MCD x FSG Originals)

The Believer: Encounters with the Beginning, the End, and Our Place in the Middleby Sarah Krasnostein (Tin House)

Run Towards the Danger: Confrontations with a Body of Memoryby Sarah Polley (Penguin)

Pick of the week

Ilana Friedman of Belmont Books in Belmont recommends “Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century” by Kim Fu (Tin House): “An intense, off-kilter and wholly unique worldview permeates every story in this collection. I kept thinking there was no way the next bizarre and riveting tale could be as good as the one I’d just finished. I was wrong every time.”

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