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Grub Street’s Lit Week

Illustrations from “Feathers: Not Just for Flying.”
Illustrations from “Feathers: Not Just for Flying.” Sarah S. Brannen

Many literary events on tap

This week may be one of the busiest of the local literary year with more than 30 events at two festivals. Cocktails inspired by literature figure into Grub Street’s Lit Week while Harvard University’s LitFest has an ostensibly more sober air about it.

Lit Week’s offerings include a game of Mad Libs, an evening of literary speed dating at Rodney’s Book Store in Cambridge, “W-O-R-D-P-L-A-Y” photo exhibit, and “What Was I Thinking: Authors on White Privilege and Racial Identity” at the Yvonne Pappenheim Library on Racism.

On Monday, Beacon Press on Beacon Hill is giving away books and hosting a reading by Richard Hoffman from his forthcoming memoir, “Love & Fury.” On Tuesday, contributors to “Like One: Poems for Boston,” a collection of healing and humorous verse, will give a reading at District Hall, across from the Institute of Contemporary Art.


Lit Week also offers a chance to meet and mingle with editors of local literary journals and sample reading series such as Rooms Down the Hallway in Jamaica Plain, Dire Literary in Cambridge, and the Boston Poetry Slam’s Moonlighting.

Harvard’s LitFest, open to the public, is squarely focused on the craft and business of writing.

It features appearances by novelists Margaret Atwood and Jamaica Kincaid. There will be literary tours of Cambridge and workshops on fiction writing, metaphors, and spoken-word poetry and storytelling.

On Tuesday, Matthew Battles and Jeffrey Schnapp, co-authors of “The Library Beyond the Book,” forthcoming in June from Harvard University Press, will discuss “The Future of Reading and Writing” with Nicco Mele, a social media pioneer and cofounder of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival.

Schedules at grubstreet.org/muse/lit-week-2014 and litfest.fas.harvard.edu.

(Full disclosure: I work at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism, which is participating in LitFest.)

Children’s book takes flight

Illustrations from “Feathers: Not Just for Flying.”
Illustrations from “Feathers: Not Just for Flying.”Sarah S. Brannen

“Feathers: Not Just for Flying” (Charlesbridge) uses a backhoe, a bullfighter’s cape, and other everyday objects to explain how birds dig, distract, and do what they need to do to survive.


The new children’s book is a collaboration between Acton resident Melissa Stewart, who has written more than 150 science and nature books for children, and Sudbury artist Sarah S. Brannen, who painted watercolors of 16 birds and their feathers.

For most children’s books, a publisher commissions an illustrator, and it’s rare that writer and illustrator ever meet. That wasn’t the case with these two, who met through a chance encounter 10 years ago. Stewart walked into the Goodnow Library in Sudbury just as a librarian was telling Brannen she should meet her.

Since then the two have been in a group that meets to critique manuscripts for children’s books. When Stewart read her “Feathers” manuscript to the group, Brannen fell in love with it and started drawing feathers. She put a few illustrations on her website. The art director at Charlesbridge saw them, liked them, and hired Brannen to illustrate the book. “I still can’t believe it actually happened,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Coming out

 “Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty” by Diane Keaton (Random House)

 “The Casebook” by Mona Simpson (Knopf)

 “Beyond News: The Future of Journalism” by Mitchell Stephens (Columbia University)

Pick of the week

Darwin Ellis of Books on the Common in Ridgefield, Conn., recommends “The Cairo Affair” by Olen Steinhauer (Minotaur): “Steinhauer has once again produced an extremely well-constructed page-turner, this time set in Egypt during the initial Libyan uprising. Layers of deceit, betrayal, and duplicity permeate this story of an alleged American plan to steal the revolution from the hands of the Libyan people.”


Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com.