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new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

Ekua Holmes on a roll; romance-book pop-up store

Marion Dane Bauer

Illustrator, speaker, teacher

Roxbury artist, activist, and illustrator Ekua Holmes came late to illustrating children’s books, but arrived with a bang. Her first book, 2016’s “Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement’’ by Carole Boston Weatherford (Candlewick), won a Caldecott Honor. Her second, 2018’s “Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets’’ by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Marjory Wentworth (Candlewick), was awarded the Coretta Scott King Illustrator award. And her third, “The Stuff of Stars’’ by Marion Dane Bauer (Candlewick), has just taken that honor again for this year.

“My first art museums and my first galleries were held in the pages of books I read,” Holmes writes in an e-mail. “This is what drew me into the world of art and what drew me into stories.” But it wasn’t until someone from the Somerville-based Candlewick saw some of her work in an ice cream shop that the opportunity to illustrate books became real.

While the honors have been a pleasant surprise, there has also been another unexpected aspect of her illustration career: speaking in front of hundreds of people at conferences, in classrooms, on podcasts, a responsiblity she take seriously. She feels “a sense of responsibility to be honest and open especially with young people.” “Each book project is its own universe with its own lessons,’’ Holmes says. “By allowing the story to guide me, I can do my best work.”


Pop-up bookstore for romance

Romance novels may be a $1 billion industry, but they seldom, if ever, take center stage in the publishing industry. Silver Unicorn Bookstore in Acton is teaming up with bookseller Clarissa Murphy and former bookseller Katie Eelman to remedy that. The group will run a romance-only pop-up bookstore at Bow Market in Union Square in Somerville from Feb. 12-18. A Whirlwind Romance will have hundreds of titles in stock, spanning all corners of the romance realm, including LGBTQIA, fantasy, western, YA, historical, paranormal, mystery, graphic novel, and more. Paul Swydan, owner of the Silver Unicorn, says their aim is to shine a spotlight on the genre. The pop-up will also offer a few gifts as well as a photo booth where people can create their own romance novel cover, all manner of lotharios and swooners welcome.

New poetry collection from Betsy Sholl

Poet Betsy Sholl’s new collection, House of Sparrows,’’ (University of Wisconsin) chews on the meaty stuff of living. Sholl, co-founder of Alice James Books and a former poet laureate of Maine, teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and has written nine books. In “Sparrows,’’ her lines are earthy, questioning. “Who needs straight lines?” she asks in “Starry Night.” “What is a story but a nest, and what is a nest/ but a vessel made for breakage and flight?” she asks in “Philomela.” Her work brings the poetry of Nathaniel Mackey to mind: its specificity, its engagement with and curiosity for living, even in the bluer stretches. She writes of her grandmother, “sweet those jelly arms, lips happy to smooch,” and of notes that sound lonely “so you know/somebody’s been down that road before.”


Coming out

Northern Lights’’ by Raymond Strom (Simon & Schuster)

Good Will Come from the Sea’’ by Christos Ikonomou, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich (Archipelago)

Bangkok Wakes To Rain’’ by Pitchaya Sudbanthad (Riverhead)

Pick of the week

Penny McConnel at the Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vt., recommends Right as Rain’’ by Lindsey Stoddard (HarperCollins): “Our heroine, Rain, and her family have recently moved from Vermont to Brooklyn to start over after a tragedy. Rain is finding it difficult to adjust to so many changes and is also keeping a secret from her family. This is a gentle yet strong and heartfelt story about family, change and friendships.

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