From the streets of Boston
Elizabeth Cook was 21 and a new bride when she and her husband moved from New York’s Westchester County to Beacon Hill in 1958. Nine years later she was the mother of two children and going through a divorce. She got a job in Mayor Kevin White’s administration, eventually working her way up to head of cultural affairs for the city. “The mayor called me aggressive, in a loving way,” she writes in “Streets of Echoes: Stories from Boston’s Most Enduring Neighborhoods.”
Jointly published by the City of Boston and Grub Street writing center, the book is the fifth and final volume in a series in which the city’s older residents tell their stories. This one includes essays by residents of Back Bay, Fenway, Beacon Hill, West End, and Dorchester. Over the past 10 years instructors in Grub Street’s Memoir Project have taught writing classes in every city neighborhood and worked one-on-one with the students to hone their essays.
In the 1970s, Cook, aware that she might be cast adrift when White left office and a new mayor was elected, earned an MBA at Simmons College. When asked to speak to women students regarding their futures, she likes to quote her daughter: “A man is not a plan.”
The memoir-writing classes in Dorchester were held in 2014 at a time when the nation was reeling from the deaths of African Americans at the hands of police. Several of the writers examined their memories of the Jim Crow South and the aftermath of Martin Luther King’s assassination, bringing “to life the overwhelming experience of injustice, the desire to make change, and also the progress that has been made,” head instructor Michelle Seaton and series editor Kerrie Kemperman write in the introduction to “Streets of Echoes.”
Dorchester resident L. Madison Tucker writes about racial conflict he experienced while growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. He didn’t get a break from it when he went to summer camp in Duxbury. When members of an opposing basketball team taunted Tucker’s fellow starting guard, John, a white boy from South Boston, Tucker intervened. A few years later when Tucker was a teenager, John spoke up for him when a group of white boys shouted menacing words. Tucker writes that witnessing repeated episodes of racism hasn’t “deterred my spirit to be fair to all people, and my experience with John was just part of that.”
“Red Dawn: Best New England Crime Stories” (Level Best), the 13th anthology in the annual series, is the last to be edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, and Leslie Wheeler. After six years, the foursome is turning the publication of next year’s anthology over to a new team. On the Level Best website, Ross wrote that “seeing for myself how the sausage gets made has helped me immeasurably in my own writing career.” “Fogged Inn” (Kensington), her new Maine Clambake Mystery, comes out in February.
■ “The Hunting Trip”by William E. Butterworth III (Putnam)
■ “The Forgotten Soldier”by Brad Taylor (Dutton)
■ “The Song of Hartgrove Hall” by Natasha Solomons (Plume)
Pick of the week
David Lampe-Wilson of Mystery on Main Street in Brattleboro, Vt., recommends “Bryant & May and the Burning Man” by Christopher Fowler (Bantam): “The Peculiar Crimes Unit’s eccentric, cranky team of aging sleuths encounters riots, incendiary devices, and a host of murders that may be connected to the growing chaos. Even in its darker moments, Fowler’s quirky, unconventional series never fails to delight.”Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com.