New England Literary News

Norwell High student wins Poetry Out Loud; debut novel revolves around a dystopian N.Y.

Second-place finisher Grace Hwang, Poetry Out Loud champion Rose Hansen, and third-place finisher Phaedra Plank.
Second-place finisher Grace Hwang, Poetry Out Loud champion Rose Hansen, and third-place finisher Phaedra Plank.

Poetry Out Loud champion named

Rose Hansen, a sophomore at Norwell High School, is the new Massachusetts champion of the Poetry Out Loud competition. Hansen bested 24 other finalists last Sunday at the Old South Meeting House to take the title and move on to the national finals in Washington, D.C., April 29-May 1.

“In a time when hatred and fallacies are so prevalent, the power of poetry to connect people regardless of race, religion, or place is more important than ever,’’ Hansen wrote in a statement to the Globe. “When I recite poetry, I feel an ethereal connection to my truest self; I feel like I am flying. I couldn’t be more excited for the next step of this journey!”


For the contest, each student must memorize and perform three poems from the Poetry Out Loud anthology. Hansen recited “Art vs. Trade” by James Weldon Johnson, “Undivided Attention” by Taylor Mali, and “Often Rebuked, Yet Always Back Returning” by Emily Bronte.

Grace Hwang, a senior from International School of Boston, took second place, Phaedra Plank, a junior from Nantucket High School was third. Others in the top seven included Anya Barrett, a junior from Worcester Technical High School; Mary Callanan, a junior from Mystic Valley Regional High School; Greta Luf, a junior from Monument Mountain Regional High School, and Esther Yen, a senior from Longmeadow High School.

The event is a collaboration between the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, in partnership locally with the Mass Cultural Council and the Huntington Theatre Company.

Introduction to Chess

In her ambitious debut novel, Famous Men Who Never Lived’’ (Tin House), Boston author and Grub Street teacher K Chess tells the story of Hel and her partner Vikram, living in an altered New York as refugees, having taken flight in response to unfolding nuclear war. Instead of trying to assimilate to her new world, Hel feeds an obsession with a single remaining copy of a science-fiction masterpiece from her past life, working to build a museum to house remnants of her homeland. Amid the layered and powerful plot, Chess explores ideas of home and history, of borders and displacement, of being unplugged from the socket of your life, holding up a mirror that shows a changed reflection, and at the same time, allows us to see our world more clearly. Chess will discuss the book on March 19 at 7 p.m. at Newtonville Books.


Channeling past crimes

The unsolved Connecticut River Valley stabbing murders of a series of women in the 1980s became a point of obsession for New Hampshire author Diane Les Becquets (“Breaking Wild’’). Les Becquets channels those murders, as well as a harrowing 12 hours she spent held at knifepoint when she was 18, in her new thriller,The Last Woman in the Forest’’ (Berkley), released this month. The novel trails Marian, a woman protecting wildlife in remote Alberta who falls for the magnetic Tate, whose death raises questions about his life and the unsolved murders of at least four women. It’s a book that relishes in the natural world as much as it takes the reader in the tight hold of its grip, a tense and wintery tale of danger, love, and strength.

Coming out

I: New & Selected Poems’’ by Toi Derricotte (University of Pittsburgh)

Look How Happy I’m Making You’’ by Polly Rosenwaike (Doubleday)


All the Fierce Tethers’’ by Lia Purpura (Sarabande)

Pick of the week

Penny McConnel at the Norwich Bookstore recommendsThe Salt Path: A Memoir’’ by Raynor Winn (Penguin): “A couple in their early 50s living in Wales find themselves broke, homeless, and to top it off, he has a debilitating disease. With nothing else on their horizon Ray and Moth decide to walk the South West Coast Path in England. Hundreds of miles and many months later their lives have been enriched and changed forever. I felt privileged to walk with them.’’

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