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new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

Doris and Warren Buffett’s charity; fiction debut on aftermath of rape

From left: siblings Roberta “Bertie” Buffett, Doris Buffett and Warren Buffett at Doris’s Back Bay home. Doris created the Letters Foundation, funded by her billionaire brother, that helped people in need.

Answering letters

Boston-based Letters Foundation was founded by siblings Doris and Warren Buffett to help those in crisis who’ve run out of other options.

A new book, Letters to Doris: One Woman’s Quest To Help Those with Nowhere Else To Turn (Sunshine Lady Humanitarian Grants Program), tells the story of the program, along with the tales of two dozen individuals who got help after writing the foundation, which receives thousands of requests, some penned on napkins and scrap paper.

Grants are based on a three-part criteria: that the crisis was triggered by some bad luck (an accident, a disease, a leaky roof); that the applicant has tried to improve their circumstances on their own; and that the letter writer has been unable to secure aid from local organizations.


The foundation finds its roots in a decision about a dozen years ago by Warren Buffett. The billionaire business executive announced he was planning to give away much of his fortune to charity. That prompted a deluge of letters from people asking for help. Warren enlisted the help of his older sister Doris to deal with the requests. Subsequently the two launched the foundation, which has offered more than $5 million in aid.

Proceeds of the book will go to Learning by Giving, a Letters Foundation partner organization, which promotes the study of nonprofits and philanthropy as a means of social change.

UMass-Boston grad releases first novel

Author Ioanna Opidee, a graduate of BC in English, with a master’s from UMass Boston, and an MFA from Fairfield University, teaches high school in Connecticut after a decade at teaching at universities, and her recently released first novel, Walking Slow (PFP), wrestles with sexual assault and its aftermath in an arresting, timely way. The novel, set in Boston and a village on a Greek island, follows Greek-American Irinie Pothos through her on-campus attack and the reckoning that follows, shining light on not just the extremes of violence, but the more subtle and insidious indignities and inequalities around us. In Rinie, Opidee has given us a sensitive protagonist who walks the uncomfortable, universal line between alienation and acceptance. The book offers a look at what it takes to put the shards back together after a shattering, showing not that it’s easy, or fast, but possible.


An ode to Ohio’s famous fried chicken

Boston resident Ron Koltnow’s first book, released last month, opens with a bit of food porn on fried chicken: its golden brown surface “with a tinge of bronze,” the “noise when you bite into it,” the juices that “should flow, hot and luxuriously.” His Barberton Fried Chicken: An Ohio Original (History) looks at this star of American food culture, sharing its origins, which are surprisingly not singularly in the South, but in the restaurants and kitchens of immigrants from various lands, particularly those from Eastern Europe. The book aims its spotlight on Barberton, Ohio, the self-proclaimed “Fried Chicken Capital of the World.’’ It examines the city’s history as well as the “famous chicken houses” that call it home. Lively, informative, and appetizing, the book shows the ways “times change, but fried chicken does not.”

Coming out

Antar: The Black Knight’’ by Nnedi Okorafor, illustrated by Eric Battle (IDW)

The Twenty-Ninth Year’’ by Hala Alyan (Mariner)

The Water Cure’’ by Sophie Mackintosh (Doubleday)

Pick of the week

Roxie Mack at Broadside Bookshop in Northampton, recommends Here Is Where We Meet: A Story of Crossing Paths’’ by John Berger (Vintage): “In these intricate stories, Berger provides a space in which place, companionship, and memory meet and interweave. Berger’s prose has the limpidity and depth of clear water, with an irrepressible joy and energy to it; it gives a sense of the quicksilver fleetingness of experience. These pieces show forth a luminous way of being in the world.”


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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.