new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

WBUR sponsors talk on literary heritage of Iceland; new Marathon book emerges

globe staff file photo

Inspirational retreat

Iceland’s otherworldly landscape suggests a severe and separate planet that rose out of the sea. With steaming sulfur springs, greedy crags, and skies of depth and drama, it’s a place that moves the mind in different ways. “It gives a bit of a jolt to your senses,” says writer, editor, and first lady of Iceland Eliza Reid. “Changes like that are good for people who like to express themselves.” Particularly writers.

To that end, Reid co-founded with Erica Green the Iceland Writers Retreat, an annual gathering for writers, both published and aspiring, which takes place this year April 5-9 and involves workshops — lead by Bret Anthony Johnston, head of creative writing at Harvard, as well as Meg Wolitzer, Madeleine Thein, Nadifa Mohamed, and others — along with excursions and explorations of Reykjavik and the rest of the country.


Not only is the natural landscape inspiring, Reid says, but the culture is one that values writers and writing. On March 16 at 5:30 p.m. at WBUR’s headquarters at 890 Commonwealth Ave., she’ll be speaking about the country’s appeal for writers, its rich literary history, and contemporary and historical Icelandic literature. Unfortunately, the event is full, but there are still spots available for this year’s retreat.

Marathon ‘Aftermath’

Watertown photographer Joshua Touster was out of town on April 15, 2013, the day of the Marathon bombing. In an effort to make sense of that day, and the days — and years — that have followed, he began making images of the aftermath, physical and emotional, and has collected his photographs into a striking and moving book. “Aftermath,’’ which includes an eyewitness account by Globe reporter, David Abel, has just been published. It begins three days after the attack, with images of the finish line and memorials, and moves into the tension of the lockdown. Some of the most arresting images are those of the stillness of grief (a sycamore branch in Copley Square strung with prayer and rosary beads) and the passage of time (a man sweeping away remnants of makeshift memorials). Touster’s goal is to send copies of his book to schools and libraries around the state. Boston Strong became a rallying cry of resilience, and Touster tells a story and captures the city and its response on that dark day.


Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks was the first black writer to receive the Pulitzer Prize for poetry back in 1950. A new book honors her work in using a form called the golden shovel, developed by poet Terrance Hayes. In “The Golden Shovel Anthology’’ (Arkansas), poets select a line from a poem of Brooks’s and use it as the closing line or lines in a poem of their own. The result is an expansive and extraordinary assemblage edited by poets Peter Kahn, Ravi Shankar, and Patricia Smith. A number of Massachusetts writers contributed, including Lloyd Schwartz, Gail Mazur, Ellen Doré Watson, and Dara Wier, and they were joined by dozens of others such as Billy Collins, Nikki Giovanni, and Tracy K. Smith. The book traces an intimate interplay between what’s come before and what’s new. As Hayes asks in his forward, “Where do poems come from if not other poems?”

Coming out

“A Colony in a Nation’’ by Chris Hayes (Norton)

“Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Anchor)

“The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington’’ by Leonora Carrington (Dorothy)


Pick of the week

Darwin Ellis of Books on the Common in Ridgefield, Conn., recommends “LaRose’’ by Louise Erdrich (Harper): “The families of two half sisters that had formerly been close are ripped apart when the son of one is shot by the father of the other. Using a large cast of characters, contemporary and historic, Erdrich weaves a powerful and moving tale of atonement, weakness, and the frailty of men and women, that gives a hint at contemporary tribal life — tenuous family connections, communion with departed spirits, poverty, and the burden of balancing the old ways with modern society.”

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