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New England Literary News

A debut from Donna Gordon, the 10th anniversary of the Nantucket Book Festival, and awards for Maine authors

Donna Gordon's debut novel follows a child with a rare premature aging disease.Courtesy of Dana Gordon

A stirring debut

“He was three feet eight and weighed thirty-five pounds. He had false teeth, heart disease, arthritis, a defibrillator, and was as bald as the bird on the back of a dollar bill.” This is Lee, the 13-year-old hero of Donna Gordon’s big-hearted debut novel “What Ben Franklin Would Have Told Me” (Regal House). Lee has Progeria, a disease that causes one to age in an accelerated pace, and has already lived beyond the expected lifespan of 12. Gordon’s novel follows Lee, his caretaker Tomás, a six-foot-five Argentinean whose pregnant wife went missing as part of the “disappeared,” and Lee’s mom Cass, a makeup artist for Broadway. Lee’s “one true hero was Ben Franklin,” and top on his bucket list is a visit to DC and Philadelphia to find out more about Franklin’s life, an adventure Tomás ends up taking him on. Gordon’s prose is lively; it rushes along with verve, humor, and heart. In Lee, she’s created an old-souled kid, one who’s open to life and to the people he loves. He has kid desires (also on that bucket list: “Ride in a hot air balloon. Taste chocolate fondue. Trail a beetle under a dung pile. Earn a Boy Scout badge for spelunking”) and lives in an old man’s body and faces his own end with wisdom and grace, and the relationship between him and Tomás, who’s faced horrors of his own, is rich and nuanced. Gordon’s achieved the rare thing, a stirring, poignant story of death and love and a page-turning adventure.


Nantucket ahoy!

“Nantucket is no Illinois,” writes Herman Melville in “Moby-Dick.” “To the very chairs and tables small clams will sometimes be found adhering as to the backs of sea turtles.” This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the Nantucket Book Festival, bringing a number of authors to this “elbow of sand” for readings, discussions, and events. Connection is the theme of this year’s festival, and the opening night celebration, “Intimate Strangers: Connection through the Power of Books,” on Friday evening includes a talk with authors Azar Nafisi, Mitchell Jackson, and Qian Julie Wang. Friday also includes events with Imbolo Mbue, Louise Penny and Mindy Todd, Nathaniel Philbrick, and others. On Saturday, you’ll find events with Dave Barry, James McBride, Martín Espada, Mitch Albom, Alice Hoffman, and others. And Sunday brings Natalie Jacobson, Kyleigh Leddy, and Jim Sulzer, among others. A chance to clink glasses with some of the authors takes place on Thursday evening in the “Authors in Bars” event, and the White Elephant Hotel hosts an Author Dinner on Friday night; tickets for that are $350. The rest of the events are free. For more information and a complete schedule, visit nantucketbookfestival.org.


Awards for Maine authors

The Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance recently announced the winners of the 2022 Maine Literary Awards. The award for poetry was shared between W.J. Herbert, for “Dear Specimen,” and Jefferson Navicky for “Antique Densities.” The fiction award went to Elanor Morse’s novel “Margreete’s Harbor.” Robin Clifford Wood took the non-fiction prize for “The Field House: A Writer’s Life Lost and Found on an Island in Maine.” In memoir, Rachael Cerrotti won for “We Share the Same Sky: A Memoir of Memory and Migration.” Paul Doiron took the crime fiction category for “Dead by Dawn.” Suzanne Greenlaw and Gabriel Frey won the children’s category for “The First Blade of Sweetgrass,” illustrated by Nancy Baker. The speculative fiction award went to James Wright for “Rhizome.” Ellen Booraem’s “River Magic” won for young’s people’s literature. The anthology award went to “Kuhkomossonuk Akonutomuwinokot: Stories Our Grandmothers Told Us,” edited by Wayne Newell and Robert Leavitt. That book also took the Maine non-fiction award, shared with Wood’s “The Field House.” And the prize for excellence in publishing went to translator John Rosenwald for “The Sonnets to Orpheus” by Rainer Maria Rilke from Covered Bridge Press. A Distinguished Achievement Award, for “exceptional and steadfast contributions to the Maine literary arts,” went to Daniel Minter, artist, illustrator, and co-founder of the Indigo Arts Alliance.


Coming Out

The Twilight Worldby Werner Herzog, translated by Michael Hofmann (Penguin)

Ghost Loverby Lisa Taddeo (Avid Reader)

Diary of a Filmby Niven Govinden (Deep Vellum)

Pick of the Week

Sally Weitzen at Wellesley Books, in Wellesley, Mass., recommends “Very Cold People” by Sarah Manguso (Hogarth): “In short, austere paragraphs, Ruthie describes growing up in a suburb west of Boston where she feels she and her family never belonged. Her mother was cold and loveless. Ruthie was bullied and then turned to destructive behaviors starting with pulling out her eyebrows and eyelashes. This is a piercing and chilling account of a clearly damaged family and what it is like to grow up unloved.”


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