new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

Nurturing young writers; favorite poems at BU; and recipes from Volante Farms

Peter Volante, founder of Volante Farms, holds stalks of celery in the 1930s.
Peter Volante, founder of Volante Farms, holds stalks of celery in the 1930s.

Nurturing young writers

Jack Gantos reckons he’s filled up about 300 journals and says leaving the house without a notebook “feels like my brain is naked.” The celebrated children’s book author started keeping a journal in sixth grade, jotting snippets of overheard conversations and keeping observations on his daily life.

In his new book, “Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories’’ (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Gantos has created a funny and exceedingly useful primer for aspiring authors ages 8 through 12. The heart of the book involves the importance of keeping a journal. Gantos says it can bring “an empowering feeling for a kid, so they feel: I’m not insignificant, I’m somebody, and what I’m seeing and feeling and doing is vitally important.’’

He also suggests that all writing is about rewriting, which means that doing your best work will likely involve multiple revisions. While that may sound disheartening to some, fear not. Gantos is not only a good teacher but an enthusiastic advocate and cheerleader.


Gantos, a Newbery Medal winner, South End resident, and Emerson alum, started graduate programs for children’s book writers at his alma mater and at Vermont College.

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On Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. at An Unlikely Story in Plainville, he’ll be speaking as part of a panel on How to Get and Keep Boys Reading, joined by authors Jeff Kinney, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Jon Scieszka, and Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Luen Yang.

Sharing powerful poems

The Favorite Poem Project, founded in 1997 by Robert Pinsky after he was named US poet laureate, celebrates two decades of the role of poetry in our lives. In conjunction with the Boston University Arts Initiative, which is celebrating its fifth year, the two organizations are hosting A Celebration of Voices: Favorite Poem Reading on Oct. 2 at 7 p.m. Pinsky, a BU professor, will introduce the participants: Gish Jen, novelist and essayist; Michael Holley, sports commentator, author, and former Globe columnist; Stuart Weitzman, high-end shoe designer; and Barbara Lynch, award-winning restaurateur. Each will read a poem that had an effect on their lives. The event will take place at 7 p.m. at the Tsai Performance Center, 685 Commonwealth Ave., in Boston. It’s free, but an RSVP is required.

A taste of farm living

Volante Farms started in 1917 when Italian immigrants Peter and Catarina Volante bought a plot of land on Dedham Street in Newton and began growing broccoli, tomatoes, and celery. In 1962, the family moved the farm to Needham and expanded the business. To celebrate the last 100 years, they’ve put out a book of recipes, “The Volante Farms Cookbook: A Century of Growing,’’ written by Volante Farms field manager Ryan Conroy and with recipes developed by chefs Todd and Jen Heberlein. The handsome book, with lush photographs of dishes and fields of crops, is a history of a family in New England as much as a collection of recipes, which celebrate each season’s bounty with simplicity and elegance. Here, as summer gives way to fall, there’s the last of the tomatoes bread pudding, roasted beet hummus, and chocolate zucchini cake. It’s a welcome primer on New England eating from a farm that has seen a century worth of seasons.

Coming out

“The King Is Always Above the People’’ by Daniel Alarcón (Riverhead)


“Dogs at the Perimeter’’ Madeleine Thien (Norton)

“Here in Berlin’’ Cristina García (Counterpoint)

Pick of the week

Grant Novak at the Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury, Vt., recommends “Half Wild’’ by Robin MacArthur (Ecco): “This collection of short stories by a promising young writer from Vermont are not glimpses of country life as seen in the glossy magazines. Life is hard and unforgiving for the people of the aging hill farms and woods. The real power in these stories is the depth of emotion and personality. Her characters are intimately alive and real.”

Nina MacLaughlin, author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter,” can be reached at