Q&A with Cathryn Mercier, Chair of the Children’s Literature Department at Simmons

The Boston Book Festival has had a long-time partnership with Simmons University, especially its Department of Children’s Literature, with whom we collaborate on programming, volunteer opportunities, internships, session hosting, and more. We wanted to ask Cathryn Mercier, chair of the department, about what this partnership means for Simmons, especially this year.

What does a sponsorship of the BBF mean to Simmons and the Children’s Literature Department? How do Simmons faculty and students get involved with book festival events?  

Our sponsorship invests in the reading lives of the youngest and future generations as they listen to keynote speakers, talk with artists, and meet writers. Our graduate students volunteer and become an immediate part of the reading lifeline of the city. Our faculty moderate conversations where authors share their creative process or give insight to some of the knots of writing. These are opportunities for illumination—of literature, of self, of community. Finally, we are so proud of the BBF and its work; we’re particularly proud that the event was imagined and founded by one of our graduates, Deborah Porter. The whole event celebrates the things our program values: readers and reading, young people and creativity, civic engagement and responsibility, familiar and new friends.

How is Simmons University engaged as an active member in civic conversations around Boston? Besides the BBF, how else do you see Simmons engaging with the community?

At Simmons, commitment to community based learning and research cultivates civic agency in students and faculty, promotes socially responsible leadership, and sees that the futures of the University and our city are inextricably connected in co-creating a just future. Students participate in everything from JumpState to middle-school pen-pal programs, and work at 826Boston and develop curriculum for graduate programs in social work, health studies, and library science, which all help place them in work and internship positions throughout city agencies, hospitals, and public service organizations. One example of faculty engagement includes scientists who study the health and ecology of the Muddy River.

What efforts have you seen at Simmons in general, and in the Children’s Literature Department more specifically, to create a sense of campus community during this period? 

Our new University President, Dr Lynn Perry Wooten, gives us reason to celebrate the potential of what our community will become under her leadership. In the pandemic, she has focused on learning and relationships, and she sees higher education as needing to address systemic racism. Our community read, What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, began our discussion this year around “the role of developing citizens who are willing to fight to change the world.”

In ChLit, we host weekly “Virtual Book Nooks” and create programming that celebrates students: a graduate’s debut novel (Julieta and the Diamond Enigma by Luisana Duarte Amendariz), and an alumna’s (Autumn Allen) appointment as the 20–21 Children’s Writer in Residence at the BPL. The Ifill College’s Mentor-in-Residence program welcomes Boston’s activist artist Ekua Holmes in October—with many other larger programs planned for undergraduates out of our excellent Student Life Office. We build community day by day, person by person, relationship by relationship, even book by book. Is it harder on Zoom — yes! Is it impossible, no.  

What are you most excited about when you think about the future of Simmons and your department? 

I’m excited about Dr Lynn Perry Wooten, our first African American President and an inclusive leader, skilled in crisis management, and powerful in her commitment to positive leadership and diversity. I am always most excited about our students—the  new writers, illustrators, teachers, librarians, publishers, booksellers, academics, critics, award committee judges—who change the world one book, one reader at a time. They believe in the power of the book to change the reader, and they charge the reader to change the world.  

And back to the BBF before we close . . . you’ve attended many BBF events and moderated more than a few—what has been your favorite session to date, and what are you excited about this year?  

This year I’m so pleased that Simmons will sponsor Jerry Craft’s keynote for young people.  With words and images, Craft mixes hard truths with moments of liberating humor and asks us all to see the revolutionary in the quotidian. 

 My favorite past event, though, was the kind of serendipitous encounter that happens all the time at BBF. Kristin Cashore was speaking. I went to the location of her panel and waited in line. When my friend and I were about to be let in—the last people in what had been a long line and a long wait—the teenaged girl behind me wailed and grabbed her friend, nearly weeping, “Oh no! I have to tell her this book [Graceling] changed my life.” I looked at my friend, we nodded, then turned to the two young people and said, “Why don’t you take our seats?” I knew Kristin, I had taught her—she had already changed my life and, more than anything else, she deserved to know that she had changed this young reader’s life.

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Q&A with Maria Kucinski at Greenough

We are proud to join other businesses and organizations—many of them nonprofits and community institutions—in working with Greenough to craft compelling narratives about our organization and our programs. We recently sat down with Maria Kucinski, a VP at Greenough, to learn more about how they work with their clients.

How does Greenough provide a platform for diverse storytelling?

Our number one goal is to tell our clients’ stories in the most meaningful way possible. We work closely with our clients to help them identify compelling narratives that will engage the media. Our clients’ stories are told in international outlets like the Associated Press, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal, locally in the Boston Globe, Boston Business Journal, WBUR, and GBH and even closer to home in outlets like the East Boston Times and Patriot Ledger. Many Greenough team members are former journalists who have a “nose for the news” and the kinds of stories reporters would want to tell.

What is Greenough doing to engage in conversations around Boston?

We are driven by telling good stories, no matter the subject. On a local level, our work with East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) has showcased how the largest federally qualified health center in Massachusetts sprang into action at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to provide testing and other urgent resources to its community. For example, EBNHC launched a mobile pediatric vaccination van to make sure that local infants weren’t missing those crucial vaccines while the state was in lockdown. We’re grateful for the opportunity to work with a diversity of clients, from community health centers to major life sciences corporations and from grassroots immigrant advocacy organizations to corporate law firms, to tell their stories.

What does working with the BBF mean to Greenough?

As storytellers, we love working with BBF. Plus, we are inspired that the BBF has an enormous impact not just in the Boston community, but the rest of the country and world—especially as it goes virtual. And it’s accessible to anyone.

One of our favorite aspects of working with the BBF is the opportunity to promote the One City One Story winners. This year, we’ve had the pleasure of working with Grace Talusan on her piece, “The Book of Life and Death,” which served as another reminder of how the Boston Book Festival lifts up writers and gives them a platform to share their experiences. Grace’s story is poignant, heartbreaking, and timely, touching on all the themes of 2020: race, privilege, sacrifice.

And personally, I love to read and to learn, and that’s truly what BBF provides, an opportunity to learn.

Are there any particular BBF events you are looking forward to?

Yes! The BBF features so many panels on timely topics that really discuss the ethos in our world right now. I’m excited for “The Fierce Urgency of Now,” “The Color of Innovation: Women of Color in Tech,” “How to Be a Better Human,” and the keynote with Michael J. Sandel on The Tyranny of Merit. Also, since I recently completed my MBA, I’m excited to hear Katherine Gehl speak about her new book with Michael Porter, The Politics Industry in “American Elections: Is This the Best We Can Do?” And any of the panels moderated by our friends at WBUR.  

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Writing is a Necessity to Humankind: An Inside Look at Lesley University’s MFA program in Creative Writing

Interdisciplinary. Social justice and community minded. Personalized and strong student-mentor model. These are just some of the ways Lesley University’s MFA program in Creative Writing continues to be regarded, and remains one of the top 10 low-residency writing programs in the nation by Poets & Writers magazine. Established in 2003, the program is praised by students and alums for its strong student-mentor model and the support they receive from the award-winning and dedicated faculty.

In addition to the expected creative writing and critical work that takes place in most MFA programs, the Lesley MFA program holds a space for cross-genre and cross-literary imagining with its interdisciplinary courses. This component of the Lesley curriculum allows students to look at writing and themselves, and explore the literary world through a variety of lenses—ultimately in the interest of deepening their writing and in support of their development as critical thinkers and literary citizens.

“This distinctive Interdisciplinary element,” says program director Danielle Legros Georges, “has the practical function of offering students theory and real-world experience in the teaching of writing, work in publishing, and the space of exploration of projects with social justice imperatives.” She adds, “Toni Morrison has remarked that ‘A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.’ We believe this to be true.”

A Lesley alum and the program’s associate director, Janet Pocorobba, notes “the support of the Lesley MFA community has allowed me to stay connected with my peers and get involved more deeply in literary culture both here and abroad. I keep writing and publishing as a result. The Lesley MFA has made my literary life richer, quite a bit more fun, and more open.”

Lesley University was founded in 1909 by Edith Lesley as a school for teachers of immigrant children arriving to the United States from Europe at the turn of the twentieth century. Questions of social justice have always figured prominently at Lesley and continue to do so across the curriculum and in Lesley’s programs.

Now in 2020, the Lesley MFA Program continues to change and grow in response to national and global events and social and political developments. Its next residency, taking place in January 2021, will be held virtually and will contain several public events including Creative Writing: Traditions, Practices, and Myths, a panel and space for the discussion and re-examination of the current MFA landscape. Be sure to check its events page closer to January for information on this free event—as well as for current events open to the public.

For more information on the Lesley University MFA program in Creative Writing, contact:

Danielle Legros Georges, Program Director, dgeorges@lesley.edu

Alyssa Baker, Associate Director, Graduate Admissions, abaker18@lesley.edu

Also see:

Why We Write Podcast

Lesley MFA Writers Facebook


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Architect and Bookseller, Rosalyn Delores Elder, Launches a New Brand: African American Heritage Massachusetts

African American Heritage Massachusetts: “Know the past, to build the future.”

This brand celebrates the history and contributions of African Americans in Massachusetts.  We need this knowledge today more than ever to empower our youth to recognize and achieve their great potential, and to inspire everyone with the compelling stories of these courageous leaders.  This brand will include an array of products such as books, posters, notecards, calendars, placemats, magnets, and informational card sets.  The first products, a tourist book, a coloring book, and a 2017 monthly calendar, were released in September of 2016.            

African American Heritage in Massachusetts: Exploring the Legacy.   Written by Rosalyn D. Elder with photographs by Delores Elder-Jones and Rosalyn D. Elder, this book explores 742 sites in 141 towns around the Commonwealth.  It features the historical significance of those sites, photos of the sites, and illustrations of the individuals involved at those sites.  Those histories include: Onesimus whose medical knowledge led to the development of inoculations to fight smallpox in 1721; Belinda Royall who filed the first successful reparations lawsuit in 1783; and Jan Matzeliger whose shoe lasting machine in 1883, led to the mass production of shoes.   Retail:  $21.95

African American Heritage in Massachusetts: A Coloring Book features 40 illustrations by local artist, Laurence Pierce and single page biographies written by Rosalyn Delores Elder.  The biographies are of individuals who made important contributions to the state prior to the 20th century with one exception, Deval Patrick.  Patrick’s election as the first African American governor of Massachusetts in November, 2006, marked a milestone in American history.  The book features interactive games to further engage the reader.  Retail: $13.95

African American Heritage in Massachusetts: 2017 Calendar is the first of what will be an annually produced calendar.  This calendar highlights 214 significant dates in our state’s history.  Written by Rosalyn D. Elder, the 2017 calendar features twelve photographs by Delores Elder-Jones and Rosalyn Delores Elder.  The photographs depict public art sited around the state that celebrates this heritage.  Retail: $14.95

Rosalyn Delores Elder, company founder, is a registered architect and entrepreneur with a passion for the arts, architecture and cities, and history.  She received a B.A. in Art History from the University of Memphis, a Masters of Architecture Degree from the University of Washington, and a Masters of Architecture in Urban Design Degree from Harvard University.  Ms. Elder founded and operated Treasured Legacy, an African American cultural boutique from 1992 to 1998 in Boston’s South End.  Ms. Elder co-founded and operated Jamaicaway Books, a multi-cultural bookstore, in Jamaica Plain, MA, from 1998 until 2012.

Ms. Elder created this brand for two reasons.  In 1998, as a high school senior, her daughter Anghara realized that racial stereotypes and ignorance still influenced the subconscious bias of educators and classmates thirty years after the murder of Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.  Customers at both Treasured Legacy and Jamaicaway Books provided another reason when they regularly expressed frustration about the paucity of information about local African American history.

The company logo, Sankofa, is an Adrinka symbol from the Ashanti Region of Ghana in Africa.   Sankofa, a depiction of a bird looking over its shoulder, literally means, “Go back and fetch it.”

Learn more about African American Heritage in Massachusetts, by clicking here.

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Consequence Magazine’s Most-recent Work

Consequence is honored to present some of the most thought-provoking art and writing in our expanding online forum. We seek out work addressing political violence and the culture and consequences of war and give voice to the individual witness— combatant, victim or any person whose life is forever affected by his or her experience with war and political violence. We continue to provide writers and visual artists a global platform for their relevant work and to publish work by writers from all countries, writers who address war’s impact on their societies. Here’s some of our most recent work. 

“Muffled” by Helen Zughaib (art feature, above image)

“Black Sea” by Anastasia Kozak (fiction)

“Remembering the Alchemists” by Richard Hoffman (nonfiction)

“Ignobled in Indianapolis” by Kermit Frazier

“Blue People Reading” by William Doreski (poetry)

“Old Soldier, Lower East Side” by David Salner (poetry)

“Blue Swee” by Shalom Gorewitz (video)

Plus recorded interviews and events with Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai (The Mountains Sing), Teresa Fazio (“The Feminine Heroic” )and  M.C. Armstrong (In Conversation with Andria Williams).

Check out Consequence Online.

The header art is titled “Muffled” by Helen Zughaib.

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Fun Facts About Lucky Jefferson Magazine

When was Lucky Jefferson Founded?

We’d like to think that Lucky Jefferson was spiritually born during a text message conversation with a good friend of ours. In that conversation, a typo occurred and the words Lucky Jefferson was born. Our founder saved the typo in a note on her phone and little did she realize, she’d use that typo a few years later to start Lucky Jefferson.

So our official founding occurred sometime in 2018 and our first issue Testament was produced and published in print in the winter of 2019.

If Lucky Jefferson was an animal, what would that be?

Lucky Jefferson is constantly changing and adapting to the current pulse of publishing so it makes sense that our spirit animal would be a chameleon. We’re eclectic and so full of life and creativity.

What is Lucky Jefferson’s favorite issue?

That’s a tough one! Our favorite issue might be Introspection. It’s the most mature issue we’ve put out and it’s all about nature and organic relationships and how they affect our daily lives. The art in Introspection is also some of our favorite to date, especially having been designed by a number of art students that have since graduated from our Literary Illustrator Internship Program.

Define Lucky Jefferson’s favorite genre of literature.

It’s a tie between absurdist, speculative, and gothic literature.

Total number of authors published to date? 

238—4 print issues and 3 digital collections.

What’s your largest issue to date?

We published 43 authors for our issue Exposed

Lucky Jefferson’s biggest pet peeve?

When it’s clear someone hasn’t become besties with our Submit page. We call it the holy grail of everything you need to know when submitting to us and sometimes it just doesn’t get enough love. 

We also find it odd that some people submit to journals for sport or just to receive a rejection (there are “rejection challenges” where authors strive to get 100 submissions in a year). We find these challenges or goals a little problematic at times because, from an editor’s perspective, it encourages authors to submit work ‘just because’ which we find disrespectful of our time and energy as a journal and literary community. 

There’s nothing wrong with a little fun and games, but we love it when people actually want to be a part of what we do. Journals have feelings too!

What about Lucky Jefferson’s unique social media art?

We try to make sure each published work has supplementary artwork that represents and visually communicates the narrative at hand. We’re a pretty ambitious journal and while we don’t promise or guarantee this, it’s certainly something we strive for!

One of Lucky Jefferson’s dreams?

We’d like to open up a gallery where people can enjoy poetry and art in real-time. We’d also like to branch out and dig even deeper into the art and music scene. Maybe an artsy podcast of sorts! 

Check out Lucky Jefferson here.

Header image credit:  Janine Liu

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Otherwords Press – Spooky reads and more

Looking for a spooky read? A cozy mystery? Something historical?

Otherwords Press is an award-winning independent press with a love of history, mystery, and more. Otherwords was originally founded as Dark Ink Press in 2016, launching authors such as Sheena MacLeod (Reign of the Marionettes), P.A. Turner (Comes the Dark), and Conner McAleese (The Goose Mistress). Otherwords is also home to Douglas Debelak’s Ghostwriter series and Michael Walsh’s romp through the French wine trade (Spilt Wine). This year, Otherwords takes the plunge into nonfiction with the release of Joseph Langlois’ A Brief History of Taunton State Hospital and the Massachusetts Farm Bureau’s collection of Massachusetts Century Farms. These two volumes join Dee Michel’s seminal work Friends of Dorothy: Why Gay Boys and Gay Men Love ‘The Wizard of Oz’, a best seller for three years running.

Fall fiction includes the second in Ed Farrell’s Angel series. Clergyman Mickey Powell is back in Snow Angel, the follow up to Farrell’s smash debut, White Angel. In the midst of a retreat in the middle of the woods, one of Powell’s students is found dead, coated in snow and staring up to the heavens. Powell is convinced there is more to the scene than local law enforcement is willing to acknowledge but what will it take to get them to listen?

If you’re looking for a good coming of age novel, Westfield State University senior Lindsay Stenico’s debut, The Assignment, follows high school student Sammi as she navigates an unexpected relationship amidst family turmoil and teenaged introspection.

Check out our entire catalog where you’re sure to find your next favorite book!

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Q&A with Frederick Joseph, author of The Black Friend

Activist and author Frederick Joseph speaks directly as a friend to the teen or young adult reader in his new book The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person. This book, published by BBF sponsor Candlewick Press, is for white readers who are committed to furthering anti-racism action and thinking by providing them with reflections on his personal experiences with racism, and also features conversations and anecdotes from prominent artists and activists. We sat down with Frederick Joseph to learn more about this much-needed new book, which will be published on December 1 and is available for pre-order now.

How did you come to write this book?

I felt there was a gap in the anti-racism space. We have phenomenal books that give context and history about global racism, but not much exists that is meant to resonate with young people. I wanted to write something that wasn’t as simple as “racism bad,” but rather explain how racism manifests through real world experiences. The goal is to build not only understanding, but empathy as well. 

Why did you choose to write it for a YA/teen audience, and what do you hope readers will take away from it?

I chose to write for the YA/teen audience because I honestly feel young people are better at being open to new ideas and actually letting them influence who they are. 

Which aspects of your conversations with artists and activists most surprised you?

I think I was most surprised by how universal our problematic experiences and traumas were.

Can you talk about the connections between your online campaigns, such as the Black Panther Challenge and Rent Relief, and this book?

The connection is simply trying to help people and do the right thing.

The Black Friend will be published on December 1 and is available for pre-order now.

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Q&A with Pamela Waterman, director of the MAAH Stone Book Award

For the past two years, it’s been wonderful to collaborate with the Museum of African American History and the MAAH Stone Book Award on a BBF session featuring the scholarship of award winners and nominees. This year’s session, set for Saturday, October 17 at 3pm ET, features four notable historians—Vincent Brown, Jelani M. Favors, Garrett Felber, and Kerri Greenidge—in conversation about their work with one of last year’s finalists, Kelli Carter Jackson. This discussion follows the award ceremony, set this year for Thursday, October 15, with free registration available now. We sat down with Pamela Waterman, director of the MAAH Stone Book Award, to talk about the background of the award and its place within the larger work of the museum.

What does the MAAH Stone Book Award mean at the Museum of African American History, and how do you select your winners?

The book award is an opportunity for the museum to inspire future scholarship in the field of African American history and culture in a very focused way. Each year we award $25,000 to the winner and $5,000 to two finalists for exceptional new nonfiction writing in the field. In addition to expanding the existing literature, our hope is that the winning books also engage the community and spark dialogue within and between different groups. Our winner and finalists are selected each year by an amazing panel of three jurors who read all of the submitted books, select a short list of nine, and then chose the winner and two finalists from there.

Tell us a little more about the 2020 award winner, Shelter in a Time of Storm: How Black Colleges Fostered Generations of Leadership and Activism by Jelani M. Favors.

Jelani Favors is a brilliant young scholar on the faculty at Clayton State University in Georgia. His book is a history of historically black colleges (HBCUs) from 1837 to the present with a focus on how these institutions shaped generations of politicians, community leaders, reformers, and activists. One shining example of this is Kamala Harris who is a very proud graduate of Howard University.

What does working with the BBF mean to the MAAH?

We’re thrilled to be able to sponsor a session at the BBF where we can feature our authors and their work and share them with a larger audience! Each year, our session includes at least one of our winners from the prior year. This year, our panel comprises last year’s finalist Kellie Carter Jackson, this year’s winner Jelani M. Favors, and three other dynamic authors whose works were also nominated for the prize this year. 

How can the Boston community get involved with the MAAH Stone Book Award?

We only have room for about 200 when we hold the event in-person at the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill, however since we’re virtual this year, everyone can come! Register for the event, which will be on October 15th @ 6:30pm here: bit.ly/maahstonebookaward2020. We also sponsor an author talk with our winning author at the Boston Public Library the day after our event — October 16th @ 3pm — and you can register for that on the BPL website (www.bpl.org). Also, feel free to visit the museum at 46 Joy Street when it reopens to check out our latest exhibit. You can buy all of our winning books at the gift shop too!

Are there any other BBF events you are particularly excited about?

Lucky us—we have Callie Crossley as host and discussant at our award event on October 15th, so of course we’re very excited about her under the radar book club session with Natasha Tretheway on October 4th!

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Q&A with More Than Words

We are pleased to profile fellow Wagner Foundation grantee More Than Words on our blog this week!

The following Q&A was conducted with Jazz, a Partner on the youth team at More Than Words (MTW), a social enterprise that empowers youth ages 16–24 who are court-involved, in the foster care system, out-of-school, or homeless to take charge of their lives by assuming responsibility of a business. Youth at MTW earn a job working 20–30 hours each week while simultaneously participating in youth development programming. After 6–12 months, young people graduate into the Career Services program, where they receive two years of additional support pursuing education and employment.

What is MTW doing to stay engaged with important conversations about disadvantaged youths in Boston?

MTW helps to stay engaged by talking about what is going on in the world. I joined the Power is Yours workshop. This workshop focused on Raise the Age and MTW advocacy to raise the age of the juvenile justice system from 18 to 22. We talked about how people, especially those of color, are being locked up at a young age. You can support this work too. Check out the Raise The Age webpage to learn more.

How do the youth you employ get involved with the bookselling and publishing aspects of MTW? What do they find the most rewarding or challenging?

At MTW youth collect donated books. We sort them out and scan them to see how they can be sold online. Once a book is sold, we find it on the shelves, scan it, weigh it, print a label, and package the book to send out.

My favorite thing about working at MTW is that I can actually do something during the day that I like. It is one of the jobs I look forward to, and I can actually have a good time. I feel a part of the little family. I like shipping books and receiving orders. On the You Job [MTW’s youth development program] I like talking to my YD about everything that is going on in my life because I actually connect with her.

What other businesses and nonprofit organizations do you partner with? How are partnerships important to the work you do?

We partner with many businesses and nonprofits. MTW works with schools, shelters, and public agencies to provide referrals of youth and to provide resources to young people. We also partner with local businesses for donation drives, volunteer events, and social enterprises throughout the country, whose products we sell online. 

How can Boston youth get involved with More Than Words? 

Boston youth can get in contact with MTW to talk with a manager, set up an interview, and apply for work on our website.

How can others get involved with your organization?

You can get involved with MTW and show support by spreading the word about the work that we do, donating books, money, or clothing, or volunteering at one of our two sites.

You can check out opportunities to get involved here.

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