Word on the Street

Kathleen Spivack’s ‘With Robert Lowell and His Circle’ remembers Boston poets

Kathleen Spivack (at age 20).
Kathleen Spivack
Kathleen Spivack (at age 20).

Spivack remembers Lowell and his circle

Kathleen Spivack, a senior at Oberlin College in Ohio, arrived in Boston in 1959 to study under poet Robert Lowell. Her first choice had been to go to San Francisco and fling herself at the feet of Allen Ginsberg but she knew there was no way the college would approve of her studying under someone with such “questionable” morals.

Her trip to Boston was the start of a long, rich chapter. She and Lowell continued to be part of each other’s lives until he died in 1977. A professor at Boston University, Lowell tutored her and introduced her to a wide circle of poets, among them his students Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, who, 10 years older than Spivack, treated her like a little sister.

In Spivack’s new memoir “With Robert Lowell and His Circle: Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Kunitz, & Others” (Northeastern University), she recalls wandering into Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Harvard Square after she arrived from Ohio: “It was difficult to enter in those days; the men sat on the couch, comfortably, and the others, women or unknowns, scuttled in and out as quickly as possible.” The atmosphere changed when owner Gordon Cairnie’s young assistant Louisa Solano bought the store.


The Grolier, now owned by poet and philosophy professor Ifeanyi Menkiti, will host a book party for Spivack at 4 p.m. on Dec. 2. Spivack has had a long teaching career in Boston and Paris and her own books of poetry now have a place on the bookstore shelves.

Kathleen Spivack
Poet Robert Lowell (right, with Allen Ginsberg).

An evening of contemporary Brazilian fiction

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Three years ago, “Why This World,” Benjamin Moser’s biography of Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, raised her profile in the United States and attracted new readers to her innovative fiction. Yet most Brazilian literature remains untranslated and largely unknown here. The literary journal Granta is out to change that with its new issue, “The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists.” The hope is to bring a wider audience to the writers. Tuesday at 7 p.m., a Granta editor will introduce two of the issue’s contributors for readings and conversation at Cambridge’s Porter Square Books.

High tea and stellar American short stories

Get the story behind the annual “Best American Short Stories” anthology while enjoying high tea at the Fairmont Copley Plaza on Dec. 2 at 2 p.m. The Boston chapter of the Women’s National Book Association has invited series editor Heidi Pitlor to talk about the making of this showcase for short fiction. Contributors Jennifer Haigh and Edith Pearlman will read.

Sandwiches and dessert will be served. Tickets $45 for nonmembers, $40 members. Attendees are asked to bring gently-used books for More Than Words, a Waltham youth empowerment nonprofit. Reservations are due Tuesday at

Coming out

 “Another Insane Devotion: On the Love of Cats and Persons” by Peter Trachtenberg (Da Capo)


 “In Time: Poets, Poems, and the Rest” by C.K. Williams (University of Chicago)

 “Fox Tracks” by Rita Mae Brown (Ballantine)

Pick of the week

Jean-Paul Adriaansen of Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, N.H., recommends “The Trial of Fallen Angels” by James Kimmel Jr. (Putnam): “A lawyer who arrives in the afterlife gets assigned to cases for the Final Judgment. She realizes each client has influenced her own earthly life. This is a great story with a lot of interesting thoughts about justice and forgiveness.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @JanLGardner.