new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

New bookstore/bar in Providence; book focuses on kids of LGBTQ parents

Happy hour is for both books and drinks at Riffraff.
Happy hour is for both books and drinks at Riffraff.

Books and beverages

Emma Ramadan and Tom Roberge starting kicking around the idea of opening a bookstore-bar some years ago when they both still lived in New York. They knew they didn’t want to do it there and decided Providence was the place.

After a last-minute space change delayed their opening, Riffraff, opened its doors earlier this month, offering up books, booze, and espresso. Roberge, who worked as a bookseller at McNally Jackson in New York and in publishing at Penguin, A Public Space, and New Directions, talked of the artist- and writer-friendly vibe in Providence in between slinging espresso drinks on a recent Saturday morning. “It’s not like New York or Boston,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’s affordable here, which allows for this leeway to pursue artistic interests.”

That artistic-literary energy defines their new spot. When Ramadan and Roberge talked about the sort of place they wanted to open, they agreed that the bookstore-cafe model wasn’t one they wanted to follow. “We wanted a communal space as opposed to people sitting on laptops, taking up space, not talking to each other. We wanted something a little more lively,” he says, as well as a place that courted an evening crowd. Riffraff, located in a former mill plant in the Olneyville neighborhood, is at 60 Valley St., Unit 107A, and is open 10 am-midnight Tuesday-Saturday and noon-6 pm on Sunday.

Focusing on ‘The Kids’


When Newton-raised and Brooklyn-based photographer Gabriela Herman was in high school, her mother came out as gay. Her parents split up, and her mother married her partner in one of the first legal unions in Massachusetts. Nearly two decades ago, this was a secret Herman mostly kept from her peers and a subject that was fraught even within her family. For many years, she didn’t know a single other person raised by gay parents. The loneliness and isolation drove Herman to seek out and photograph people who shared her experience. The arresting book that resulted, “The Kids: The Children of
LGBTQ Parents in the USA’’
(New Press), out earlier this fall, features beautiful portraits and accompanying interviews with dozens of people from all over the country who grew up with gay parents. Danielle, pictured in warm afternoon light by a chain-link fence grew up in Maryland with two moms and four dads. “I was really proud of my family,” she says. And she was also “terrified of showing who my family was.” Caroline, raised in Newton by two moms and a stepmom, talks of her little sister crying the first time she saw straight people kissing “because she was so confused.” As a whole, the book is a poignant, important testament to the variety of shapes and forms family can take. And for Herman herself, “some aspect of each story resonated with my experience and helped me chip away at my own sense of solitude.”

Edelman keeps in flying

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Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman is a man with many nicknames. His favorite is “The Squirrel,” given by his teammates after his sideline plea not to let him get squirrely out on the field. It took hold of his imagination, and Edelman, with friend and collaborator Assaf Swissa, created a children’s book, 2016’s “Flying High,’’ whose main character named Jules (inspired by Edelman himself) is a squirrel with football dreams who’s told he’s not cut out for the sport — not big enough, not fast enough, not strong enough. But Jules is tenacious and doesn’t give up. He’s driven by his dreams and by his pals, including a goat named Tom in a wink to adult fans. Edelman has just released a sequel. “Flying High 2’’ continues the squirrel’s adventures, with the message that dreams are OK to be followed, that perseverance and hard work pay off.

Coming out

“Bakkhai’’ by Euripides, translated from the Greek by Anne Carson (New Directions)

“House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories’’by Yasunari Kawabata (Vintage)

“Heart Spring Mountain’’ by Robin MacArthur (Ecco)

Pick of the week


Hillary Nelson at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, N.H., recommends “Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color’’ by Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring: “O’Leary and Spring are writers and artists who work with traditional printing techniques. In “Dead Feminists’’ they team up to illustrate short biographies of 24 great women of history, both famous and obscure. A gorgeous book full of compelling women.”

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