new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

A book of gender-role pioneers; witches in history and now; antique-book sellers, collectors gather

Gender-role pioneers

Ria Brodell began Butch Heroes’’ (MIT) at libraries in Boston, researching the lives of people who “were strong or brave in the way they lived their lives and challenged their societies’ strict gender roles.”

The just published work pairs Brodell’s painted portraits of each subject, done in the style of Catholic prayer cards, with minibiographies.

Katherina Hetzeldorfer, who lived in 15th-century Germany, was drowned for sexual transgression; she’s pictured sinking underwater holding a stone, her preferred method of seducing women disappearing with her. Lisbetha Olsdotter, aka Mats Ersson, was beheaded for, among other things, deserting husband and children, going around disguised as a man, and publicly mocking god.


Brodell’s subjects come from around the world and span the 15th century to the 20th.

In words and pictures, the artist and educator has created a frank, compelling, sensitive, and celebratory compendium of gender-role pioneers, telling the stories and shining light into a corner of history that has long been in darkness. Brodell will discuss the book at Porter Square Books in Cambridge on Nov. 17 at 3 p.m.

The season of the witch story continues

Salem’s witch-based economy tries to catch its breath in this post-Halloween moment. But experts know that the tradition of witches extends beyond a holiday in fall, reaching back centuries and remaining alive today as Ellen Evert Hopman shows in her new book, “The Real Witches of New England: History, Lore & Modern Practice’’ (Destiny). Hopman, who lives in Western Massachusetts, establishes the long history of witches being persecuted. Women were put on trial, hanged, burned, drowned, and buried alive for being susceptible to lust, for healing with herbs, for controlling their reproduction, for keeping too many cats, for being old. Hopman includes interviews with descendants of victims of witch hysteria, like visual artist Frances Denny from Brookline, a descendant of Mary Bliss Parsons, who was accused of witchfraft in 17th century Massachusetts. A section also gives voice to a number of modern witches, showing the variety of practices and personalities drawn to it today.


Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair

Over 130 book dealers and sellers from around the globe will descend on the Hynes Convention Center next weekend for the annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair, one of the oldest of such gatherings in the country. The weekend offers opportunities for serious collectors and curious browsers alike, including special “Discovery” items, which are priced at $100 or less for those looking to begin an antique book collection without spending major bucks. The fair will also feature discussions on how to get started, a screening of documentary master Frederick Wiseman’s “Ex Libris: The New York Public Library,’’ and free appraisals of those dusty tomes you found in the attic or at an estate tag sale. The event takes place Nov. 16-18; for more information including ticket prices, visit

Coming out

The Houseguest: And Other Stories’’ by Amparo Dávila, translated from the Spanish by Matthew Gleeson and Audrey Harris (New Directions)

Lord of the Butterflies’’ by Andrea Gibson (Button)

The Patch’’ by John McPhee (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Pick of the week

Nefertiti Akamefula at Brookline Booksmith recommends The Desert and Its Seed’’ by Jorge Barón Biza, translated from the Spanish by Camilo Ramirez: “Jorge Barón Biza’s storytelling is captivating: dark, bitter, and deceptively plain. This Argentinian classic follows our narrator as he cares for his mother — the victim of an acid attack — through the graphic disintegration of her flesh, and the subsequent attempts at its reconstruction. Taking place first in his native Argentina, then in Milan, Biza finds both humor and introspection in the absurd, the violent, and the traumatic.’’


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