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new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

Painter takes inspiration from Le Guin; Carle museum highlights King award winners

Tuesday Smillie/Images courtesy of the Rose Art Museum

Exploring the ‘Darkness’

“To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness,” wrote Ursula K. Le Guin in her novel The Left Hand of Darkness.’’ The book, published nearly half a century ago, helped launch the rise of feminist science fiction and is set on a planet of ambisexual beings, neither female nor male.

In a new exhibit at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis, Boston-born and Brooklyn-based artist Tuesday Smillie explores the politics of identity and transgender activism in an exhibit, which includes a series of her paintings based on Le Guin’s novel.

She paints and re-paints different covers. One shows a lone robed figure in a snowy landscape; another has a glacial sculpture of a male-female face; another a figure made of fire clutching a lightning bolt. Smillie’s work engages with the text, its ideas of gender fluidity, and the power imagination plays in asking the unanswerable questions and working toward a changed, and better, world. “Tuesday Smillie: To build another world” runs through Dec. 9 at the Rose Art Museum, 415 South St., Waltham.

Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Awards

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The Coretta Scott King Awards have been honoring African-American authors and illustrators for nearly 50 years, and to celebrate, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, is hosting a touring exhibition which brings together pieces by more than 30 artists who were past winners. “Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards’’ runs from Oct. 21 through Jan. 27. There’s work by George Ford, who was the first recipient, Javaka Steptoe, who took last year’s award for his illustrations of “Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat,’’ Jerry Pinkney, who’s won 10 awards, as well as Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Synthia St. James, and Faith Ringgold who won in 1992 for “Tar Beach.’’ The art includes depictions of Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Josephine Baker, and King’s husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A reception today at 1 p.m. will feature gallery talks by Ekua Holmes, Gordon C. James, and Pinkney. The museum is at 125 West Bay Road, in Amherst.

New essay collection from DeWitt Henry

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DeWitt Henry’s new collection of essays, Sweet Marjoram: Notes and Essays,’’ (Plume/Mad Hat), is an accumulation, a heaping of wisdoms, observations, and moments; fragments of thought blaze and disappear like candles flickering and then extinguished. It’s the sort of book you can open to any page and sink in to what’s offered on topics various and familiar: weather, blood, dreams, appetite, envy, meat, magic, and so on. Henry, founding editor of Ploughshares and professor emeritus at Emerson, brings in Shakespeare, Montaigne, Tim O’Brien, Camus, many others, mostly men to this commonplace book.

Coming out

Let It Bang: A Young Black Man’s Reluctant Odyssey into Guns’’ by R.J. Young (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Vol. 2: 1956-1963’’edited by Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (Harper)

Art of Native America: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection’’by Gaylord Torrence (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Pick of the week

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Andy Beck at Main Street Books in Orleans recommendsLet’s Go (So We Can Go Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc.’’ by Jeff Tweedy (Dutton): “In this understated, funny, and heartfelt memoir, Jeff Tweedy (co-founder of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco) presents a series of scenes from his life, from his upbringing in southern Illinois through his rapid rise to becoming a leader of two genre-defining bands despite his struggles with depression, anxiety, severe migraines, and drug addiction. Tweedy’s self-identified “super-power’’ from a young age has been his ability to be impervious to the opinions of his peers, enabling him to pour his emotions into his songs, performances, and now this artful memoir, brimming with warmth, curiosity, and insight.”

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