new england literary news

A PEN/Hemingway for Hemenway

Murton Millen, Irving Millen, and Abraham Faber in April 1934 at the start of their eight-week trial.
Murton Millen, Irving Millen, and Abraham Faber in April 1934 at the start of their eight-week trial. handout

A PEN/Hemingway for Hemenway

A debut collection of short stories with a focus on the horror of war has won the 2015 PEN/Hemingway Award for a distinguished first book of fiction. “Elegy on Kinderklavier” (Sarabande) is by Arna Bontemps Hemenway, who teaches creative writing at Baylor University.

His seven stories are about, among other places, Iraq; New Jerusalem, Kan., a town with a high number of combat casualties; and a space colony, established by Israelis, for next of kin coping with the human toll of violence in the Middle East.

The size of the prize has been doubled to $20,000 this year. Hemenway will be honored at the award ceremony at 2 p.m. April 19 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Novelist Ann Patchett will be the keynote speaker.


Other finalists for the prize were Kim Fu, author of “For Today I Am a Boy” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and Atticus Lish, author of “Preparation for the Next Life” (Tyrant). Fu’s novel is about a Chinese immigrant family in a predominantly white community in Ontario. Lish’s is a love story between a Chinese Muslim immigrant and a veteran of the Iraq War.

Mark Chiusano, author of “Marine Park” (Penguin), and Diane Cook, author of “Man v. Nature” (HarperCollins), will receive honorable mentions for their story collections.

Admission to the award ceremony is free but reservations are recommended. Call the Kennedy Library at 617-514-1643 to reserve a seat or register at the library’s website, www.jfk

Crime stories

Two new Boston-based books shine a light on sensational murder cases that have faded from public memory.

“The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America’s Youngest Serial Killer” (Morrow) tells the story of Jesse Harding Pomeroy. At age 14 in 1874, he began serving a life sentence after being found guilty of murdering a 4-year-old boy. The case attracted national attention and the interest of Herman Melville and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Pomeroy was transferred to a state psychiatric facility in Bridgewater a few years before he died in 1932. Author Roseanne Montillo, who teaches at Emerson College, learned of the case as she was researching her 2013 book, “The Lady and Her Monsters” (Morrow), about Mary Shelley’s writing of “Frankenstein.”


The story veteran journalist Nathan Gorenstein tells in “Tommy Gun Winter: Jewish Gangsters, a Preacher’s Daughter, and the Trial That Shocked 1930s Boston” (ForeEdge) is personal. It was in hushed family conversations that Gorenstein found out about his notorious ancestors in Boston, the Millen brothers. On a snowy day in 1934, Murton and Irving Millen and their friend, MIT graduate Abraham Faber, robbed a bank in Needham, killing two local police officers. The trio was captured, went to trial on murder charges, and were executed. Although Murt’s wife, Norma, wasn’t present during the robbery, she was charged with being an accessory to the crime because she gave the men a ride back to Boston after the car they had used was torched. She was found guilty and served 18 months in jail.

Coming out

■  “The Patriot Threat” by Steve Berry (Minotaur)

■  “The World Before Us” by Aislinn Hunter (Hogarth)

■  “At the Water’s Edge” by Sara Gruen (Spiegel & Grau)

Pick of the Week

Phyllis Spinale of Wellesley Books recommends “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s): “This novel offers a fresh twist on a difficult period in world history. Two French sisters offer resistance to the Nazis by employing very different but equally powerful methods. Hannah captures the impossible choices facing French women on a daily basis and the grim wartime realities of hunger, fear, and uncertainty.”


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