new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

Slavery in New England, jazz in New Orleans, and a bear in the woods

An image from Jared Ross Hardesty’s new book, “Black Lives, Native Lands, White Worlds: A History of Slavery in New England.”
An image from Jared Ross Hardesty’s new book, “Black Lives, Native Lands, White Worlds: A History of Slavery in New England.”

Northern exposure

Jared Ross Hardesty’s arresting and enlightening new book, “Black Lives, Native Lands, White Worlds: A History of Slavery in New England” (Bright Leaf), out this week, opens at 15 George Street in Medford, site of “the only freestanding slave quarters north of the Mason-Dixon Line still existing in the United States.” The building, Hardesty argues, suggests “a different history of New England, one that is not only littered with Puritans and patriots but also enslaved Africans and Indians.” His concise book serves as introduction to this aspect of New England’s history by focusing on individuals as well as the connections between the people, the historical moment, and the movement of which they were a part. The book looks at the origins of slavery in the region, the kinds of labor enslaved people did, as well as their private lives and their modes of resisting slavery. It also offers a view into the challenges that freedom brought to formerly enslaved people, and shows how slavery’s “legacies continue to haunt a region — and a nation — to this day.” On Wednesday at 6:30 pm at the Old North Church, Hardesty will speak on a panel exploring “Slavery and Its Legacies at Old North: Confronting the Past, Envisioning the Future.”


Southern comfort

Longtime Boston-based music critic Brett Milano wrote a definitive book on Boston’s rock and roll history; “The Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock and Roll” (Commonwealth) spanned decades and scenes, highlighting big names and small. Now, in a new book out earlier this month, he’s aimed his rock knowledge at New Orleans. “300 Songs for 300 Years: Songs that Have Immortalized New Orleans Music” (Offbeat), is an expansive, exuberant move through the singular history of New Orleans in song, commemorating the city’s tricentennial. Milano writes of the song “Bringing Back the Home” by Jon Cleary, which “named as the city’s greatest gift to the world: ‘Jazz, funk, rhythm and blues and soul,” and explains these sounds form the focus of the book, though Cajun, zydeco, swamp pop, and rock and roll are all in the mix. As for what qualified for inclusion, “We finally decided that it’s a New Orleans song if there exists an iconic (or at least really good) local version of it.” The book moves chronologically, and each page offers an opportunity to turn away from the book and listen to songs like “Funky Butt,” “Muskrat Ramble,” and “Root Hog or Die,” among so many others.


True love

The Whiting Foundation recently announced the winners of its annual Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grants, a $40,000 prize that supports authors as they complete works in progress. One of this year’s eight recipients is Cambridge resident Ilyon Woo for her work-in-progress “Master Slave Husband Wife: An American Love Story,” forthcoming from 37 Ink. The book tells the story of the enslaved couple Ellen and William Craft who escape slavery in disguise, Ellen passing as a white master and William acting as her slave. The judges for the award noted that “this is a moment in which the public is more willing than ever to grapple with the dark complexity of slavery’s legacy, and Woo’s book will be a contribution to this expanding discussion.” Woo’s first book “The Great Divorce: A Nineteenth-Century Mother’s Extraordinary Fight against Her Husband, the Shakers, and Her Times” (Atlantic Monthly) explored one mother’s efforts to remove her children from the the celibate sect of the Shakers.


Coming Out

“Felon” by Reginald Dwayne Betts (W.W. Norton)

“Celestial Bodies” by Jokha Alharthi, translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth (Catapult)

“The Collector of Leftover Souls: Field Notes on Brazil’s Everyday Insurrections” by Eliane Brum, translated from the Portuguese by Diane Grosklaus Whitty (Graywolf)

Pick of the Week

Pat Fowler at Village Square Booksellers in Bellows Falls, Vermont, recommends “Bearksin” by James A. McLaughlin (Ecco): “Rice Moore is hiding from the Sinaloa Cartel while working on a private forest preserve in the Appalachians in Virginia. Rice finds the carcass of a bear and recruits the former caretaker scientist to try to catch the poachers. Great read for nature lovers and fast-paced action for thriller-detective readers.”

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