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new england literary news | jan gardner

Extinct American birds memorialized in ‘The Lost Bird Project’

An image of a heath hen from “The Lost Bird Project.”
An image of a heath hen from “The Lost Bird Project.”Todd McGrain

Hunted to extinction

Heath hen meat was such common fare in Colonial New England that servants bargained not to be fed it more than three times a week. The hens were so heavily hunted that by 1870 there were only a few hundred left. Massachusetts established a reserve on Martha’s Vineyard and enacted a hunting ban, but a fire and the emergence of a predator took a heavy toll. The bird was last seen on March 11, 1932.

The heath hen and four other extinct North American birds — the great auk, Labrador duck, passenger pigeon, and Carolina parakeet — are memorialized in “The Lost Bird Project” (University Press of New England) by Todd McGrain and in a documentary with the same title. Over the past decade, McGrain, who is artist in residence at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, created bronze sculptures of the five birds. Each statue is installed at a site where the bird was last seen in the wild; the memorial to the heath hen is in Manuel F. Corellus State Forest on the Vineyard.

A bronze heath hen sculpture by Todd McGrain memorializes the site on Martha’s Vineyard where the bird was last seen in 1932.
A bronze heath hen sculpture by Todd McGrain memorializes the site on Martha’s Vineyard where the bird was last seen in 1932.Todd McGrain

“The Lost Bird Project” will be screened at Harvard Museum of Natural History, 26 Oxford St., Cambridge, at 2 p.m. Saturday. McGrain will be in conversation with Andy Stern, executive producer of the documentary. The event is free with museum admission.

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Kickstarter campaign to fund documentary

Louisa May Alcott wrote “Little Women” in 1868 at a half-moon table in the bedroom of her childhood home in Concord. The beloved novel has never been out of print and has been published in 50 languages.

Open to the public since 1912, Orchard House was one of the first house museums in the country devoted to a woman. The house had been vacant for decades when a group of local women banded together to save it. Now Orchard House has launched a Kickstarter campaign. If its goal of $150,000 is reached by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, the money will fund the making of a documentary about the house. To make a donation, search for “Orchard House” on kickstarter.com. If the goal isn’t reached, the money will be returned.

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Book lovers to flock to Boston Book Festival

Even picky readers surely will find plenty of interest at the Boston Book Festival on Saturday. More than 70 events are on tap, including talks by Gregory Maguire, Rick Riordan, and other authors of children’s and young adult books. Susan Minot, author of “Thirty Girls” (Knopf), will deliver the fiction keynote on Friday. On Saturday, there will be a panel discussion with authors whose books tell stories grounded in Boston and another with mayors responding to Benjamin R. Barber’s “If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities” (Yale University). Also appearing are NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan; Liz Mugavero, author of the Pawsitively Organic mystery series; and Hervé This, father of molecular gastronomy and author of “Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food” (Columbia University). Children are encouraged to dress as their favorite character for a costume parade and contest on Saturday. The festival will close with a panel of novelists who bring music into their pages and a performance by The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library, an indie ensemble pop group. The festival schedule is at www.bostonbookfest.org.

Coming out

 “Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery: Where War Comes Home” by Robert M. Poole (Bloomsbury)

 “Gray Mountain” by John Grisham (Doubleday)

 “Shopaholic to the Stars” by Sophie Kinsella (Dial)

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Pick of the week

Jean-Paul Adriaansen of Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, N.H., recommends “The Moor’s Account” by Laila Lalami (Pantheon): “The early 16th-century Spanish exploration of Florida under the command of Pánfilo de Narváez went completely wrong. Only four men survived, among them an African slave called Estebanico. In this captivating historical novel, he tells the full (fictional) story of the survivors.”


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