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Investing in literacy

Poet and teacher Arto Vaun studied literature and creative writing at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and for the past three years the Watertown native has been living in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, where he’s been launching the Center for Creative Writing at the American University of Armenia.

Vaun says his primary goal is to help reinvigorate the cultural potency of the struggling former Soviet republic. “We need to champion public intellectuals,” he said. “We need to be reinvesting in and re-emphasizing the high level of literary discourse, intellectual discourse, and public discourse” in a country that, because of its size, economic woes, and isolation, has been stagnating.

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In the process of developing the new program, Vaun discovered there wasn’t a high-quality English literary journal in that part of the world, so he started one. The first issue of the recently launched Locomotive (which will be available locally at Harvard Book Store) showcases work by writers from Denmark, Sweden, Hungary, the UK, as well as by a few local poets including Stephen Burt and Gail Mazur.

The journal’s mission is clear: “to showcase innovative writing from established and emerging global voices and eventually connect those voices with the vibrant but isolated literary community of Armenia.” It dovetails nicely with Vaun’s views “that art can change the world. Literature can change the world. Because it does that all the time.”

Weaving a story in ‘Loom’

Kevin Gallagher, a poet and political economist, works as a professor of global development policy at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies and has recently published a book of poetry called “Loom’’ (MadHat) that centers on money, power, and racial justice in antebellum Boston involving the textile mills in the North and the cotton produced by southern slaves. Using the diaries, letters, and memoirs of Boston elites and abolitionists, as well as slaves and southern plantation owners as source material, Gallagher spotlights a complex and crucial moment in American history in plainspoken verse. He’ll read and discuss Loom on Jan. 18 at 6 pm at the Massachusetts Historical Society at 1154 Boylston St. in Boston.

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Poet laureate of Somerville

Gloria Mindock was just named poet laureate of Somerville, taking over the role from Nicole Terez Dutton. Mindock, a longtime resident of Somerville, has published four collections of poetry; she founded Cervena Barva Press in 2005, runs two reading series as well as the Cervena Barva Bookstore in Somerville’s Arts at the Armory space. Laureate panel member Doug Holder praised Mindock as “a significant literary figure . . . [who] has few equals in Somerville.”

Coming out

“The Man Who Shot My Eye Out Is Dead’’ by Chanelle Benz (Ecco)

“Pretending Is Lying’’ by Dominique Goblet, translated from the French by Sophie Yanow (New York Review Books)

“This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression’’ by Daphne Merkin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Pick of the week

Sandy Eaton Newell at Gibson Bookstore in Concord, N.H., recommends “A Man Called Ove’’ by Fredrik Backman (Washington Square): “Fans of British TV’s ‘One Foot in the Grave’ will recognize Ove as a Swedish Victor Meldrew. Described as the ‘grumpiest man you will ever meet,’ Ove gives new meaning to the term curmudgeon. He has always been a bit of a grump, but since the loss of his wife he cannot bear companionship (human or other). When new neighbors move in next door, Ove’s life changes despite his best resistance. The book is funny, poignant, and big-hearted.’’

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Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at nmaclaughli@gmail.com.