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new england literary news | NINA MACLAUGHLIN

How we got to an era of lethal self-defense

Coming home

“You ever been in a place where you don’t get to say no?” It’s a question that resonates throughout Brian David Johnson and Jan Egleson’s moving graphic novel, “MWD: Hell is Coming Home’’ (Candlewick). The book follows Liz, a traumatized soldier who is returning to her New Hampshire hometown after a tour in Iraq. Liz, who worked with a MWD (military working dog), is dealing not just with the aftershocks of war but flashbacks of a sexual assault by a fellow soldier. Johnson, a Brookline native, and
Egleson, a filmmaker who teaches at Boston University, explore the way PTSD affects women differently than men and shine a light on sexual abuse in the military. Illustrations by Karl Stevens, a former
longtime Boston Phoenix cartoonist, and Laila
Milevski, a Somerville artist, powerfully communicate Liz’s pain as well as the concern by those —
both human and canine — who help her find her way.


Johnson and Egleson will be reading from the book Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. at Brookline Booksmith.

Defensive stand

In her powerful new book, “Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense’’ (Beacon), Caroline Light examines the current era of “DIY-security citizenship,’’ the notion that “if we live in a world full of terrorists, violent criminals, and ‘illegal’ immigrants, with a government unwilling or unable to protect us, we law-abiding citizens must take matters into our own hands.”

Studded with striking statistics and sobering facts, Light’s book finds the roots of all this in the nation’s history of racial and gender inequality. In the republic’s early days, white male property owners had wide-ranging rights to protect their homes and belongings. This evolved into a celebration of armed defiance against foreign powers amid unfavorable odds and flawed ideas of how a “reasonable person’’ may defend himself against threats.


Light, director of undergraduate studies in Harvard’s program in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, looks at cases from the 19th century up to the killings of Trayvon Martin, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, and 18-year old Michael Brown. “When I wrote this, I never wanted it to be this timely,” Light says in a telephone interview, alluding to the “national catastrophe we have on our hands.”

She’s not particularly optimistic about the near future. “I see things getting worse before they get better because we’ve laid a groundwork. There is power now in the hands of the armed citizen ideal.” Light will discuss her book at Harvard Book Store on Feb. 16 at 7 pm.

African writing festival

Brown University is hosting a one-day festival of African writing headlined by novelists from the African diaspora. “New Global Africa: Confrontation and Connection” brings together Uwem Akpan, Okey Ndibe, Chinelo Okparanta, E.C. Osondu, and Namwali Serpell and will involve a panel discussion on the writer as public intellectual and a reading of the authors’ work. As festival organizer Chika Unigwe puts it, “In the spirit of James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry and other black writers of the civil rights era whose eloquent anger produced works and provoked conversations as pertinent today as they were in the ’50s and ’60s, these writers . . . provide unique perspectives [on] present day discussions on blackness, race, police brutality, and immigration.” New Global Africa takes place Feb. 15 from 9:30-3:30 at the McCormack Family Theater, 70 Brown St., Providence.

Coming out

“I Am Flying into Myself: Selected Poems, 1960-2014’’ by Bill Knott, edited by Thomas Lux (FSG)


“Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life’’ by Yiyun Li (Random House)

“Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast’’ by Megan Marshall (Houghton Miflin Harcourt)

Pick of the week

Emelie Samuelson at the Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, Conn., recommends “Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded’’ by Hannah Hart (Dey Street): “Imagine being raised by a woman with schizophrenia in a home covered in filth. Imagine that your father is a Jehovah’s Witness priest, and he won’t speak to you because you’re an openly gay woman. Now imagine taking all of that and building a global community of love and support and reckless optimism. Having difficulty? Meet Hannah Hart.”

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