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new england literary news | Nina maclaughlin

Controversial history of Dickinson’s books; re-release of Moshfegh’s debut book

A daguerrotype of Emily Dickinson, age 16, on display at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst.

A Dickinson backstory

Mabel Loomis Todd is the woman responsible for ushering the poetry of Emily Dickinson into the world. A provocative new book by Tufts professor Julie Dobrow tells the story of Mabel, her daughter Millicent Todd Bingham, and the complicated ways in which they served as midwives delivering Dickinson’s poetry.

Mabel came to know of the reclusive poet through Emily’s brother, Austin. The two had a 13-year relationship, despite that he was nearly 30 years older than she — and both of them being married to other people.

“After Emily: Two Remarkable Women and the Legacy of America’s Greatest Poet’’ (Norton) aims a spotlight into a shadowy, scandal-laced corner of Amherst in the late 19th century, adding valuable, and fraught, backstory to how Dickinson’s poetry, which continues to reverberate to this day, got published and marketed.


Dobrow will discuss the book on Tuesday, Jan. 8 at noon at the Boston Athenaeum, Beacon Street, in Boston.

Moshfegh’s 2014 novella to be re-released

Ottessa Moshfegh’s second novel, My Year of Rest and Relaxation,’’ (Penguin) appeared on a slew of best-of-the-year lists for 2018, and her debut, Eileen,’’ was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Due to her success, Penguin is re-releasing this week her first book, a 2014 novella that won the Fence Modern Prize and the Believer Book Award. Set in 1851 aboard a ship, McGlue’’ is narrated by the titular deckhand from Salem who is sick and still drunk from the night before, facing accusations that he murdered his gay lover, Johnson. Roped to his bunk, filthy, conscious only of his want for more drink, McGlue tries and tries to avoid piecing together what happened, memories coming back like knives through soft dark tissue. Moshfegh’s prose — the clipped rhythms, the thrilling, disorienting combinations of words — are well-suited to giving voice to this particular, and memorable, fiend. “My mother says I am the son of the devil. How could she be wrong?” It’s a book about need, depravity, monstrosity, and love.


Redwing: a new chapter

Doug Tifft spent 34 years working at the University Press of New England, which closed its doors for good last week. But Tifft and his colleague Ann Brash decided to take their editorial, design, and production know-how and formed Redwing Book Services, which launched last week. Tifft describes them as “book project managers — assessing, planning, and assigning the work for each job.” At Redwing, they’ll continue to work with UPNE-affiliated university presses, including Wesleyan, Dartmouth, and Brandeis, among others, “offering the same editorial, design, composition, production services” the presses received through UPNE, explains Tifft in an e-mail. Brash compares university press publishing to public radio, and Tifft emphasizes the importance of publishing books that aren’t necessarily “economically viable in the marketplace but nonetheless deserve to exist.”

Coming out

“The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations’’ by Toni Morrison (Knopf)

“Magical Negro’’ by Morgan Parker (Tin House)

“Savage Conversations’ by LeAnne Howe (Coffee House)

Pick of the week

Rebecca Stimpson at Wellesley Books recommends “Heavy: An American Memoir’’ by Kiese Laymon (Scribner): “This is a complicated, intense reckoning with family and personal history by one of the sharpest writers out there. Of his mother, Laymon writes: “You gave me a black southern laboratory to work with words. In that space, I learned how to assemble memory and imagination when I most wanted to die.”


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