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new england literary news | Nina MacLaughlin

Celebrating unknown writers and a well-known art collection

Paul Rahilly’s “The Violinist.”Paul Rahilly

Five years of Pilgrim

Chances are, you’ve never heard of Eddie Atkins or Bryant Draycott or Margaret Miranda or Richard Lizine. But you may soon hear some of their work.

These four are but a few of the members of the Black Seed Writers Group, a collection of members of the Boston-area homeless community who meet weekly at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul on Tremont Street. Pieces from the writers are collected and printed 10 times a year in a literary magazine called The Pilgrim. Some of the contributors will share their work at the group’s annual reading on Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. at Brookline Booksmith.


Edited by writer and Atlantic contributor James Parker, The Pilgrim celebrates its 5th anniversary this year. In its poems, essays, stories, and reviews emerge moments of heart break and heart swell, hope and anger and faith. Of city geese, bruised knuckles, prison stints, kicking drugs, the struggle to find a bed. And the descriptions of weather — sunsets, rainstorms, cold snaps — take on new meaning from the pens of these Black Seed writers. It is a world that is sometimes welcoming, often indifferent, always new.

The von Metzsch collection

Gail and Ernst Von Metzsch live in Manchester-by-the-Sea and have amassed a deep and striking collection of art by local artists, which is the subject of a new exhibit at the New Britain Museum of Art in Connecticut called “As We See It: The Collection of Gail and Ernst von Metzsch” with an accompanying book of the same name published by the museum. With an emphasis on representational painting, the couple has, over the past 30 years, chosen to nurture and support the work of Boston-area artists including Paul Rahilly, Ed Stitt, and Janet Monafo.

The book offers an in-depth look at work being done in Boston and New England. It includes 121 paintings; each artist is introduced with a short statement by Ernst Von Metzsch. Stand-outs include Rahilly’s “The Violinist,” a forceful portrait of a woman with a swath of curtain over her waist, sitting on a couch in a mess of a room, Pepsi can between her feet, citrus wedges on a plate on the floor, a bicycle perched behind. Bernard Chaet captures the light of the North Shore. And the cool blue movement of “Snow Drifts and Kettle Island” by Julia Von Metzsch Ramos, the daughter of the collectors, makes one almost feel the wintery wind of blowing snow and sea.


Coming out

“The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds’’
by Michael Lewis (Norton)

“Ema the Captive” by César Aira (New Directions)

“The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars” by Dava Sobel (Viking)

Pick of the week

Sheila Daley of Barrett Bookstore in Darien, Conn., recommends “Mister Monkey” by Francine Prose (Harper): “The title of this wildly imaginative novel refers to a third-rate children’s musical about an orphaned monkey who is adopted by a family in New York City. But, at its heart, the narrative consists of the stories of a disparate group of characters connected to the production. As the characters reveal their fears and regrets — how they have missed out, messed up, and still improbably hope for a better future — the reader roots for each. A laugh-out-loud comedy and a deeply felt exploration into how each individual experiences the passage of time and the inexorable march toward extinction.”


Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter” and can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.