New England Literary news | Nina MacLaughlin

Mass poetry names new chief; Nantucket bookstore turns 50

Daniel Johnson has been named the new executive director of Mass Poetry.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff file
Daniel Johnson has been named the new executive director of Mass Poetry.

Mass poetry names new chief

Daniel Johnson thinks there’s a sea change happening in the world of poetry right now after a recent National Endowment of the Arts study showed the number of US readers has almost doubled to 28 million people in the past five years.

And he’s happy to be riding that wave as new executive director of Mass Poetry.

Johnson, a poet himself (his collection “How To Catch a Falling Knife’’ came out in 2010 from Alice James Books), was the founding executive director for 826 Boston and worked there for almost 10 years.


NEA officials hypothesized social media might be a contributing factor in the rise, but Johnson has his own theories. “Poetry,’’ he says, “is portable; it’s projectable; it fits on a phone. And with the muddying of the national dialogue and discourse, people are looking for something that honors language.”

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Johnson says he would like to find some fresh ideas for the annual Mass Poetry Festival and new ways of exposing people to poetry. Other cities, he notes, have painted lines on rooftops for airplanes or in restrooms. “It’s exciting to me when poetry is presented in surprising and unexpected ways.”

He’s also excited about the possibility of a new Narrative Arts Center in the Seaport. The group made up of Mass Poetry, Grub Street, and the Harvard Bookstore is one of four finalists being considered for reduced-rate, civic-cultural space by the City and the developer of Fifty Liberty, the condominium tower that would house the winning project. The final decision will be made this fall.

Nantucket bookstore turns 50

Mitchell’s Book Corner sits at the top of Main Street on Nantucket. It’s a tight squeeze of a place, creaking with history, a place where you can sense the benevolent bibliophilic ghosts wandering among the shelves. On June 28, the bookstore celebrates its 50th anniversary. Its current owner, Wendy Hudson, is a major player in the local literary scene. Besides Mitchell’s she’s also the proprietor of the tiny downtown’s other bookshop, Nantucket Bookworks, and founder of the island’s annual book festival, which took place last weekend. On Mitchell’s 50th birthday, there will be a celebration at the store with giveaways, book signings, food, drink, and general book-related merriment.

Boston and civil rights in the post-Civil War era

Millington Bergeson-Lockwood’s new book, Race Over Party: Black Politics and Partisanship in Late Nineteenth-Century Boston,’’ out last month from the University of North Carolina Press, looks at a moment in Boston and in African-American history that has had reverberations into the 20th and 21st centuries, helping shape the civil rights movement, and echoing into current-day activism. Bergeson-Lockwood argues that Boston was a crucial spot in the post-Civil War era battle over black partisanship. Activists here developed the notion that blacks should rethink their traditional party loyalties and support only those candidates whose interests and policies aligned with their own, regardless of affiliation. The cultivation of independent thought and political-organizing skills would keep minority activists in good stead for generations.

Coming out


The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography’’ by Deborah Levy (Bloomsbury)

Early Work’’by Andrew Martin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

A Terrible Country’’ by Keith Gessen (Viking)

Pick of the week

Shuchi Saraswat at the Brookline Booksmith recommendsThe Faraway Nearby’’ by Rebecca Solnit (Penguin): “Recently someone asked me which woman leader I most admired and I almost instantly answered with Rebecca Solnit. She’s passionately devoted to her causes — look up her writings on the Google bus and ‘mansplaining’ — and she has written over a dozen books about such a wide range of topics that her books are shelved in at least four different sections of our store. This memoir is the first book of hers that I read, sparking an obsession with all things Solnit and all things Iceland.”

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