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New England Literary News

MIT Press releases book from ‘In the Black Fantastic’ exhibit, a return of the Salem Literary Festival, and three awards from the New England Independent Booksellers Association

"Eleventh" by Lina Iris Viktor comes from a new anthology of the art of Black culture.MIT PRESS

The Black fantastic

In Devan Shimoya’s “The Abduction of Ganymede,” a sparkling golden eagle catches or carries a Black man in a sunset silhouette against a tie-dye background; Zeus’s cup spills droplets, and monarch butterflies wing about as though helping the eagle in flight. In Alison Staar’s “Equinox Study,” an above-ground figure stands with a paler below-ground figure below her; the women are linked by a network of veins, white and red, milk and blood, connected at their breasts. In Stacey Robinson’s psychedelic “Afrotopia 1,” a pyramid is trisected by a nighttime city skyline and a highway swerving into it, with a rainbow as visual rhyme above, and planets aglow in the cosmic swirl. Such are a few examples from the London exhibit “In the Black Fantastic.” The accompanying book, published this week by MIT Press, is a bold and vital collection of artists working at the dissolving boundary between real and unreal, natural and supernatural. Curator and writer Ekow Eshun defines the Black fantastic as “works of speculative fiction that draw from history and myth to conjure new visions of African diasporic culture and identity,” writing in his illuminating introduction of the way W.E.B. Du Bois’s concept of “double consciousness” serves as “a prompt for Black people to imagine ourselves on our own terms.” Besides an electrifying range of artwork, the book includes essays on Black feminist voodoo aesthetics, “Flying Africans, Technology, and the Future,” and “Race in Space.”


Salem festival returns

The Salem Literary Festival, which has been hosting its annual weekend-long events virtually for the past two years, is now back partly in-person for its 13th year of readings, discussions, performances, and workshops. The festival opens this Thursday with a virtual event with Alix E. Harlow and Olivie Blake. Saturday’s events all take place in person. The Children’s Lit Fest starts at 10 a.m., the keynote discussion features Katherine Howe, author of “Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty,” and panels include conversations on “Twists & Turns: Thrillers & Mysteries” with DJ Palmer and Karen Winn; “Heroes and Villains in YA” with Cristina Fernandez, Amanda Foody, Christine Lynn Herman, and Barry Lyga; and Nathaniel Hawthorne with Edward Renehan and Mark Stevick. Hear about the art of the audiobook, and learn how to take your tabletop RPG story to the page. On Sunday, tune in virtually for discussions on humor in fiction with Mona Awad, Annie Hartnett, Sanjena Sathian, and Laura Zigman; climate change in fiction with Jessica Greengrass, Allegra Hyde, and Erica Ferencik; animals and humans with Kira Jane Buxton, Nick McDonell, and Lynda Rutledge; motherhood with Jessamine Chan and Alexis Schaitkin; and addressing racial tension in historical fiction with Jabari Asim, Emmanuel Dongala, and Lisa Braxton, among other discussions. For more information and to register, visit


Awards for New England booksellers

The New England Independent Booksellers Association recently announced the winners of three annual awards. The Independent Spirit Award, which recognizes the New England bookstore of the year, went to Titcomb’s Bookshop in East Sandwich on the Cape. Titcomb’s has been operating for over half a century, and the organization highlighted the depth and warmth of the bookstore’s relationships with authors and customers both. The Saul Gilman Award, which honors “outstanding service as a sales representative to New England Independent Bookstores” went to Susie Albert. And the President’s Award, for lifetime achievement in arts and letters, went to children’s book author Kate Messner. The winners will be acknowledged at the annual banquet later this month, when the winners of this year’s New England Book Awards will be announced.


Coming out

Kick the Latchby Kathryn Scanlan (New Directions)

Sacrificioby Ernesto Mestre-Reed (Soho)

Sojournby Amit Chaudhuri (NYRB)

Pick of the week

Gillian Kohli at Wellesley Books in Wellesley recommends “Blow Your House Down: A Story of Family, Feminism, and Treason” (Counterpoint): “Gina Frangello bares her soul with unflinching candor as she takes you through the self-inflicted destruction of her marriage. As her story unfolds you despise her, you pity her, you admire her, you want to scream at her, and you can’t take your eyes off her as she examines the cumulative pressures of a woman’s traditional place in our society.”

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