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At Home Boston: My Family is “Out” There and Other Boston Globe Selected Essays

Boston Book Festival has launched a community writing project to capture this moment in history. We asked residents to send us stories of their experiences during the pandemic, from the acts of kindness by neighbors to the challenges in our biggest hospitals. We wanted to hear it all from all corners of the city. The following stories have been featured in the Boston Globe.

We have been featuring stories on BBF’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, including the following selection of stories. Submissions will be accepted through June 30, 2020.

 

Nakia Hill, an author, educator, and journalist grasping on to joy.

My alarm sounds at 8:15 a.m. I open my eyes and take a deep breath. I wiggle my toes and move my legs. I do this religiously every morning. Today, marks day 74 of staying at home.

My mornings are filled with reading biblical scripture, meditation, breathing in the scents of a hanging eucalyptus branch in the shower, and making tea before I log into my computer to work. After an hour-and-a-half Zoom meeting, I decided to take a long walk to the post office and grab a fresh bouquet of burnt orange ranunculus flowers. I embrace the warm sun beaming on my face. I feel joy. I feel at peace.

I enter my apartment and excessively wash my hands and face. I pour a glass of iced kombucha. I sit at my table and look at the text message on my phone. My coworker writes that she is thinking of me during this difficult time. She must be referring to the Amy Cooper incident. I learn shortly that she is not.

I Google Minneapolis and see his name: George Floyd. And just like that a simple and beautiful day transitions into a day of sorrow.

 

 

~

 

 

Nancy Taylor serves as the senior minister and CEO of Old South Church in Boston (gathered 1669).

It was a wobbly, yet solemn little procession: three masked mourners and a canine. Beginning in Kenmore Square, at David and Sue Horner’s condo, it proceeded up Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

S. Sue Horner died on Good Friday, April 10, in the Year of the Virus. Sue did not die of the virus but her parting was hemmed by it: no gatherings to mark the passing of this splendid human being.

David devised a send-off nevertheless. On April 23rd, accompanied by his daughter and son-in-law, he set out for Old South Church. David led, bearing the urn. His daughter came next, holding her phone aloft, speaker on, through which her brother in Illinois played the bagpipes for the length of the procession, its soaring thrum infusing the Mall. Her husband came last with Melon, their golden retriever.

I unlocked the empty church and led the procession into the columbarium. David drew the urn from its velvet cover, revealing a golden vessel inset with incandescent tiles. We lifted the urn into the niche, prayed, recited Psalm 23, and shared some words.

It was far too small for the luminous “Dr. Sue”, but what we could manage in the Year of the Virus.

~

Lucia Thompson lives in Wayland.

On April 26, 2020, our household was a bustling home for four people. Our two sons, ages 18 and 22, have a lot of energy. We are among the lucky ones. I can work remotely. Our food and shelter are not at risk.

As I write this a week later, it is much quieter here.

On April 27, our older son, an EMT, transported a COVID-19 patient to the ER. He left home to protect my delicate health and became ill with the virus a week later.

On April 29, my husband’s 95-year-old father had a stroke. My husband left immediately to be with his 90-year-old mother near New York City and is now preparing for his father’s discharge from the hospital. Rehab people will come to the house; going to a facility would be too dangerous.

My husband just called me to describe today’s hospital visit. The doctors had warned that although his father had regained the ability to speak, he could only repeat what was said to him.

“It’s me,” said my husband.

“It’s me,” said my father-in-law.

“I love you,” said my husband.

“I love you,” said my father-in-law.

“Sooooooooo much,” said my father-in-law.

Onward.

~
Faizah Shareef is a medical student at Boston University School of Medicine who is passionate about supporting and promoting health throughout communities.
Would racism exist if we were blind?
I felt his eyes bore into me as I walked through the grocery store. At first, I thought nothing of it. With the angst in the air attributable to COVID, I understood the anxiety provoking nature of feeling as though your 6-foot bubble had burst. So, I ignored him and maintained my distance. But he persisted, glaring at my face, squinting to see who I was underneath the mask. This time I looked back, when he yelled, in my mother tongue, for me to go back to my country. In shock, I just laughed. How could he tell what I was under my mask? Or see anything through the sunglasses he was wearing inside? It baffled me. I laughed at the irony that he would use my own language against me, that he knew enough to guess where I was from in some version of culturally competent racism. I laughed because dealing with the truth behind that comment generated a sadness in me that was too much to handle. If not now, then when will be together?
So, I ask again, could racism exist if we were blind?
~

Barbara Anderson is 87 years old and is living in an assisted living facility.

My Family is “Out” There

But I am “in” here. Life is different now “in” Assisted Living since the deadly COVID-19 arrived. Now the staff, employees, and all 100 residents have our temperatures taken daily. Everyone else, including my family, is “out” there. People like the hairdresser are really missed — with long straight hair and masks, we don’t even recognize ourselves.

Since mid-March we are in quarantine “in” our rooms with meals served. Activities are practically non-existent. We can sit on the back patio 6 feet apart, wearing masks, do exercises there, chat, and walk nearby. Nothing inside. Hopefully June will improve.

My family is “out” there — somewhere! Most are working from home (or Montana). Hopefully an August wedding will happen, but unfortunately, I may still be “in” here.

From my window I wave to my son “out” there. Recently, when my daughter visited, I opened the window “in” my second-floor room and could see and hear her perfectly “out” there. Next time she will bring a chair so we can have an “in” and “out” conversation all day, or until we run out of words.

 

 

~

 

 

Melissa Lee is a writer eating her way through quarantine with her long-distance boyfriend.

My boyfriend Marcial lives in Boston, and I live in New York City. We had been doing the long-distance thing pretty successfully until coronavirus hit. In mid-March, I was furloughed from my temp job, Marcial began working remotely, and New York started shutting down. I went to Boston to stay with Marcial.

We are opposites in many ways, but we share a love of food. The kitchen has been the center of quarantine life —and also quarantine problems.

Marcial and I have gone from eating out and cooking/grocery shopping for each other during our periodic visits to cooking/grocery shopping with each other all the time. We’ve argued over things like the proper way to make rice and what greens to buy for salad. Our habits are deeply rooted in our upbringing and individual cultures (Filipino immigrant and American-born Chinese, hence the strong rice opinions).

On top of the mundane issues, we’ve also dealt with a flooded kitchen (resulting in cockroaches) and a mandoline accident leading to an ER visit. Marcial and I have spent quarantine navigating how to handle the unexpected and how to integrate our lifestyles. We’ve been eating well along the way.

 

 

~

 

 

Kirstan Barnett is a startup investor and the Founder of SheGive.

It’s 3 a.m. and my dog Rikki just gave me a worried look. Up again?

“I can’t sleep,” I say. I flick the light, pick up “Non-Zero Probabilities.” But the words lay pinned to the page like swatted flies. I watch new “Killing Eve” episodes, play old Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats songs. Still night.

We are — what? — 12 agitated weeks into lockdown, and now this. The thing that got me was Chauvin’s sunglasses. Perched nonchalantly on his head, undisturbed, as if he were at a backyard BBQ. Or anywhere other than kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, on his life. And Floyd was a father, as we all now know, having seen his daughter Gianna on Stephen Jackson’s shoulders saying “Daddy changed the world.”

Precious child. I pray, safeguard her.

Rikki has her own bed. But she won’t leave me. A Goddess of Protection. She does that thing dogs do, hovers increasingly closely the more agitated I get. “I’m losing it,” I say. I know. And like those weighted gravity blankets meant to encourage sleep, she drapes her 70 pounds over me, covering my restless heart with safety.

As if daybreak, or a prayer, could bring peace today.

 

Tell us your story about these unprecedented times in less than 200 words. Read more about BBF’s At Home Boston community writing project, in partnership with the Boston Globe.

Follow Boston Book Festiva’s At Home Boston project on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Share these stories using the hashtag #athomeboston.

Read more At Home Boston stories:

At Home Boston: Putting my son to bed over FaceTime.

At Home Boston: First stories featured in Boston Globe

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At Home Boston: Oldest Friend and Other Essays

Boston Book Festival has launched a community writing project to capture this moment in history. We asked residents to send us stories of their experiences during the pandemic, from the acts of kindness by neighbors to the challenges in our biggest hospitals. We wanted to hear it all from all corners of the city.

We have been featuring stories on BBF’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, including the following selection of stories. Submissions will be accepted through June 30, 2020.

 

Richard A. Jones, Ph.D., is a philosopher and “little scribbler” of many articles, poems, and books (many of them published and self-published). He lives with his wife of 50 years, Carol, in Lunenburg.
During these dark times of Coronavirus and social unrest, I’m doing what I’ve always done, reading 5 or 6 hours a day, trying to write every day, and trying not to alienate my wife, children, and grandchildren with my endless pedantic prattle about books, writers, and ideas. My bookish ways have always socially isolated me, so COVID-19 has provided a convenient camouflage for my solitary commitments to reading and writing.
As I turn pages of my days, I await decisions on two manuscripts submitted via “Submittable.” Have they forgotten me? Do the readers for little magazines, writing contests, and publishers really take six months? In this “time out of joint,” with the suffering caused by the virus and the current state of political unrest, writing has afforded me an important mode of coping.
My work as an African American poet and philosopher has always concerned the human condition. I continue my “scribbling” knowing that like Black Lives Matter, books also matter, because they can change lives. And like many writers, as I await for things to get back to “normal” (if they ever do), I also wait for “Submittable” to pass judgment of my latest scribblings.
~
Irene Tanzman is Isaac’s mother and the author of Abie and Arlene’s Autism War. She lives in Newton.

Life was going well for Isaac at his group home. He was communicating more, smiling more, and enjoying life. He loved his beautiful and encouraging caretakers. Every Saturday, I took him to Chabad. There were birthday cakes, fancy salads, and hot cholent. A rabbi with a long beard would always say, “Shabbat Shalom,” to everyone. Isaac and I took long walks. Several neighbors knew him and said, “hello” to him. Sometimes Isaac looked at them and said “hello” back.

One Friday afternoon, we didn’t come to pick him up. The Jewish sabbath was going to begin, but he wouldn’t be with his family. His father and I wouldn’t give him a special hug or a kiss good night. There would be no challah or beer-spiked cholent.

His caretakers stopped taking him bowling. They stopped going to restaurants. They didn’t go shopping. Instead everything was being delivered. They went on walks, but the caretakers told him to stay far away from everyone walking by. He was not allowed to say “hello.” The caretakers covered their faces with scary masks. It was hard to hear them. He couldn’t see them. Everything was different, but he didn’t understand why.

~
Heddi Siebel is a multi-media artist who lives and works in Cambridge, MA.
“Mom, can you handle 4 days a week of childcare for a month?” my eldest son asked as my 20-month grandson picked at his peas. They were Covid refugees from New York, alone in Massachusetts because my daughter-in-law had been called back to work at the hospital.
Could I manage? An active boy—eight hours a day? Days divided into increments of 10 minutes—20 if I were lucky? With no libraries or play structures? The relentless rain and cold battered us.
I dragged home a refrigerator box. His architect grandfather fashioned a hut with two operable doors and windows—a home for hide and seek, a camp for teatime with beloved animals. We donned rain boots and stamped in puddles. We pitched stones down street drains to hear “donk”. We stalked cement trucks. We tramped to the ever-deepening wetland at our local park where red-winged blackbirds cheeped and swayed on tall reeds. We threw ducks organic bread.
Then sun came and the earth broke open in warm surprise. We rolled down green hills; watched a garter snake with mutual wariness; visited the ant colony of evolving tunnels and arches. Suddenly, everything in my pandemic world was low, new, and hopeful.
~
Liza Rodman is a writer living in Chestnut Hill whose debut book is due out in March 2021.

Oldest Friend

On the first day of tenth grade, 1975, my pack of junior high girls ditched me. But Pam offered to share a locker. She’s my oldest friend.
On March 29th, 2020 she texted me, “Richard in ER. Intubated. Pray.” “Shit,” I text back.
Her sister prays to their late mother. “I told you I’d only come to you for the big stuff.” This is so big Pam can’t hear full sentences. Virus. Ventilator. High fever. Kidney failure. Pneumonia. Please pray. Transferred to Boston. Sorry. Absolutely no visitors.
For seven weeks she asks me, “Who will hold his hand?”
Secondary infections. More tests. Trach. Bad news. Still testing positive.
Good news. He’s so strong. She feels like she’s losing her mind.
You can do this, Richard. Prayers.
“I don’t want him to be afraid,” she texts.
“Me either,” I text back.
On May 15, I learn the phrase “100% on room air”.
Next week, Richard will leave the hospital for rehab. He’ll have to re-learn how to literally keep his chin up.
Still no visitors. Pam and I will meet on the lawn, six feet apart, wave to Richard through the open window, and share a Cosmo in a tiny plastic cup.

~

Sue McGovern is a writer in Arlington.

I flipped my first covid, my daughter texts. The ICU where she works just converted to serve patients with the virus. Turning them over helps them breathe.
I tell her dad, Bill. He sees his baby surrounded by germs that could kill her. Him, too. He’s halfway through chemo, a turtle without a shell.

I become the crazed bleach crusader of Arlington, upping the bleach-to-water ratio of my spray bottle. There is nothing I will not spray! My daughter’s re-entry routine will change. Strip at the washing machine. Everything in. No more eating together. No more together. Everywhere she goes, I will follow and spray.

Then Bill gets a cough, sore throat, and fever. He won’t call the doctor until after the weekend. We wear masks driving into MGH. In my head, TV news is saying drop him off for a test and you’ll never see him alive again.

I pull in. A Hazmat suit approaches the car. Bill! He reaches in. We get one last grip. He’s backed into an elevator. I toot the family honk in case he can hear. My eyes need windshield wipers. I hug the curves of the Charles driving home. Denial brings such relief

Tell us your story about these unprecedented times in less than 200 words. Read more about BBF’s At Home Boston community writing project, in partnership with the Boston Globe.

Follow Boston Book Festiva’s At Home Boston project on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Share these stories using the hashtag #athomeboston.

Read more At Home Boston stories:

At Home Boston: Putting my son to bed over FaceTime.

At Home Boston: First stories featured in Boston Globe

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BBF News: 2020 Event Will Be Virtual

Bringing people together to celebrate books is our main purpose. This year, we are putting the health and safety of our attendees, presenters, volunteers, and exhibitors first by moving the 2020 Boston Book Festival online. Although we realize that it would be impossible to truly replicate the immersive atmosphere of the BBF online, we are committed to preserving that spirit of celebration and connection.

We plan to host virtual conversations, presentations, and interactive sessions for readers of all ages, starting October 5 and culminating with BBF festival weekend on October 24–25. These events will be a combination of livestreamed and prerecorded content. All events will be free to attend and will be archived online for later viewing/listening.

We plan to continue some of our most popular programs, including One City One Story (in print and online), the Reading Like a Writer craft talks with fiction writers, and the BBF Book Hunt scavenger hunt. We are also developing some new real-world experiences for children and adults that can be enjoyed while social distancing.

We are excited about the prospect of opening up our festival through technology, including authors who might not otherwise be able to travel to Boston, engaging audiences from across the country and around the world, and collaborating with other organizations and festivals to jointly produce programs.

We want to thank our sponsors for their support in this unique year: WBUR, the National Endowment for the Arts, Plymouth Rock Foundation, the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Foundation, the Wagner Foundation, Greenough Brand Storytellers, the Fuller Foundation, Massachusetts Cultural Council, Boston Cultural Council, and Cambridge Trust.

We will be sharing more details about BBF 2020 soon. In the meantime, thank you for your continued support and please check out personal stories about COVID-19, At Home Boston.

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BBF’s Founder Curates Her Favorite Sessions: Listen to Them All

What better time than summer to pop on your headphones and download some stimulating conversation. We thought we’d dig through our archives to find the very best of what BBF has presented, and who better to do that than BBF’s founder Debbie Porter. Her full list in below.

“Carlin asked me to pick my top five or six all-time favorite BBF sessions. But that’s an impossible task, because, of course, ALL the BBF sessions are amazing. How could they not be? We invite several hundred brilliant and creative people to join us every year to talk about their most recent book.

“So I picked my favorites of the last three years, which was in itself very difficult.  I primarily work on the nonfiction program at BBF, and I am also obsessively interested in politics, so most of my picks are nonfiction and/or political, with a few notable exceptions. I hope you enjoy listening to my faves!”

2019:

Poetry Keynote: Reginald Dwayne Betts

Capitalism and Its Discontents:Heather Boushey, Ray Fisman, Mike Isaac, Host: Michael Norton

A Tribute to Tony HorwitzDavid W. Blight, Annette Gordon-Reed, Host: Ron Suskind

Technologies of Freedom or Control?: Roger McNamee, Shoshana Zuboff, Host: Meghna Chakrabarti

2018:

Authoritarianism: Stephen Greenblatt, Amy Siskind, Timothy Snyder, Host: Timothy Patrick McCarthy

Public Affairs Keynote: Anand Giridharadas, Host: Christopher Lydon

2017:

Politics: Where We Find Ourselves: Maureen Dowd, Jared Yates Sexton, Host: Tom Ashbrook

The State of Affairs: Esther Perel, Host: Robin Young

Racism in America: It’s a Crime: Chris Hayes, James Forman Jr., Host: Kim McLarin

Check out BBF’s full archive here.

 

 

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Volunteer Spotlight: Laurie Arnone on Beekeeping and the BBF

We were thrilled to catch up with long-time BBF volunteer superstar, Laurie Arnone, who told us about her many unique interests, her day as Paddington Bear, and the books that are getting her through these days.

Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a semi-retired physician assistant, living in the Boston neighborhood of Roslindale. I’ve worked for over 40 years in healthcare, starting out in Connecticut as a registered nurse. I’m an avid gardener, beekeeper, and cyclist. I’ve been singing with the MIT Women’s Chorale for 20 years, and I also sing with the One City Choir.

How did you end up volunteering at the Boston Book Festival? 

I love to read and regularly do volunteer work (with WBUR, Community Rowing, Inc., and Head of the Charles in the past), among other groups. I really enjoyed the first BBF I attended and signed up the next year to work with it.

How long have you been volunteering for BBF, and what kinds of different positions have you done during that time? Any favorites?

I think it’s been around five years or so. I started in the year that the 2nd and last Hubbub Fest was held for kids. I’ve mostly been a “way finder,” which I really enjoy doing. Two years ago, I was Paddington Bear, which was a fun experience. I like being a way finder, since it keeps me moving and talking to a lot of people.

What was one of the most memorable BBFs for you and why?

I guess being Paddington Bear, because of the amount of effort put into picking the characters, the very fun interactions with the little kids and their families, and working closely with the other volunteers helping to don the ‘suits’ and being their escorts.

What keeps you coming back volunteering year after year?

It’s fun! And, it is a worthy event. Books and reading are important for everyone.

How would you describe BBF to someone who has never been?

I’d say it is a big party where you can visit and learn from vendors from publishing, writers, book sellers and some food trucks. You can listen to your favorite authors and authors you don’t know, hear about new books, old books and specialty topics – all in the beautiful settings used in Copley Square!

Any book that’s helped you through these challenging times?

Not one in particular but many. I find myself in two books at a time – suspense, mystery, nonfiction and nature topics. I use the e-books from the Boston Public Library, support More Than Words bookstore, and recently became acquainted with Frugal Books, too. My most recent read is The Friend by Joakim Zander.

 

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At Home Boston: Local Authors Tell Their Stories and Share Advice

Boston Book Festival has launched a community writing project to capture this unique moment in history. We asked residents to send us stories of their experiences during the pandemic, from the acts of kindness by neighbors to the challenges in our biggest hospitals. We want to hear it all from all corners of the city. Getting to read fragments of each other’s lives lets us remain close to each other, even when we’re pushed apart.

We were lucky enough to have local Boston writers Nakia Hill, Linda K. Wertheimer, and Suzanne Koven sit with us to provide advice on writing for At Home Boston. Read Nakia Hill and Linda K. Wertheimer’s submissions below.

~

Nakia Hill is an author and educator at 826 Boston who works to empower women to write as a “tool for healing, radical self-care and resistance.” She is the author of Water Carrier: A Collection of Poetry Dedicated to My Healing Journey and I Still Did It: Stories of Resilience. Listen to her powerful words about why it’s important to tell our stories right now and hear more about why the word “stillness” is what will stay with her.

My alarm sounds at 8:15 AM. I open my eyes and take a deep breath. I wiggle my toes and move my legs. I do this religiously every morning. Today, marks day 74 of staying at home.

My mornings are filled with reading biblical scripture, meditation, breathing in the scents of a hanging eucalyptus branch in the shower, and making tea before I log into my computer to work. After an hour and a half Zoom meeting, I decided to take a long walk to the post office and grab a fresh bouquet of burnt orange ranunculus flowers. I embrace the warm sun beaming on my face. I feel joy. I feel at peace.

I enter my apartment and excessively wash my hands and face. I pour a glass of iced kombucha. I sit at my table and look at the text message on my phone. My coworker writes that she is thinking of me during this difficult time. She must be referring to the Amy Cooper incident. I learned shortly that she is not.

I Google Minneapolis and see his name: George Floyd. And just like that a simple and beautiful day transitions into a day of sorrow.

 

 

 

~

Linda K. Wertheimer is a journalist, essayist, and writing teacher at Grub Street in Boston. She is the author of Faith Ed, Teaching about Religion in an Age of Intolerance. Linda says to sit down for five minutes in the morning and just write to “get the cobwebs out.” After that, she says it will be clearer to see “what you were most obsessed about.”
I wanted a peace I thought we could still find. It was late March during the early weeks of the pandemic, and the parking lot was packed at Concord’s Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge.
“Maybe we shouldn’t stay,” my husband said.
But Great Meadows was a sanctuary where my family of three could just be. I envisioned past trips when we stood at the wetlands’ edge, waiting, hoping to spot a heron or beaver.
“Let’s stay,” I said.
Going on a nature walk that day quickly became terrifying, as if we were Pac-Man dodging ghosts. With no state mask order yet, keeping distance from others was our only protection. Our 12-year-old son Simon ducked his face into his coat as we walked. We dodged passersby by stepping into bramble and lingered only for moments in viewing areas, fearing the breath of strangers. We saw a beaver dam, but no beavers.
Back home, my son looked worn. “We’re going to take care of each other, ok?” I said, hugging him. He grinned, offering a tween coping strategy. “I make you pancakes,” he said, referring to the breakfast he made today. “You make me everything else.” Home for now can be our sanctuary.

 

~
Dr. Suzanne Koven is a writer in residence at Mass General Hospital, whose new book will be coming out in 2021, Letter to a Young Female Physician. She spoke to us about the need for frontline health workers to tell their stories right now. 

 

 

Tell us your story about these unprecedented times in less than 200 words. Read more about BBF’s At Home Boston community writing project, in partnership with the Boston Globe.

Follow Boston Book Festiva’s At Home Boston project on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Share these stories using the hashtag #athomeboston.

Read more At Home Boston stories: At Home Boston: Putting my son to bed over FaceTime.

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Meet the BBF 2020 Interns

We are so fortunate to work with three smart, capable, and independent interns—especially this year, when our staff is spread across the country while we all work remotely! Bree, Campbell, and Ellie all play instrumental roles in the success of this year’s Boston Book Festival. We sat down with them (virtually, of course!) to hear about the books that have inspires them—and the ones they’re most excited about reading next!

What is your favorite book?

Ellie: One of my favorite books is If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio. This book is a magnificent mingling of two of my favorite things–Shakespeare and murdery mystery. Set at a Shakespeare conservatory, Oliver Marks is one of seven players who struggle to find normalcy as the plays they perform begin to imitate the lives they lead. 

Bree: This is always such a loaded question, as it’s impossible for me to just choose one! But for a while, my favorite book has been Southland by Nina Revoyr. It’s a story about love, loss, family, and the painful race and class issues that make up Los Angeles’s history. The characters are captivating, with a slow progression that makes the ending worthwhile. I read it as a junior in college and have come back to it ever since.

Campbell: Dawn from the Lillith’s Brood series by Octavia Butler. Dawn is the first in a sci-fi series that takes place after the end of the world when an alien species captures all remaining living humans intending to breed with them. The main character, Lillith, is a human woman fighting for the survival of her kind. This wild premise allows Butler to explore intense themes including gender, race, and consent. I don’t think any book has boggled my mind quite as much as this one did! I read the first book for class, but had to find the other two as soon as I finished reading!

What is your favorite book turned movie?

Ellie: One of my favorite series (I can’t choose just one book) turned movie is The Maze Runner by James Dashner. It’s a young adult dystopian science fiction series that follows a group of boys as they figure out how to escape the maze they have been trapped in as a sort of science experiment with little memory of a world before the maze. Of course the books are better, but I enjoy the artistic liberties that the movies take and seeing the dystopian setting brought to life.

Bree: Coraline by Neil Gaiman, is my favorite book turned movie. The stop motion animation is stunning. And while the book is a little different compared to the film adaptation, it was so well done (shoutout to Laika Studios), that I have no complaints. It’s a great book and a great movie. Can’t get better than that.

Campbell: The Color Purple. I read The Color Purple for the first time in high school and cried my eyes out at the end of almost every chapter. It wasn’t until much later I found out it had been adapted as a movie. It’s a brutal watch, so I recommend reading the book first so you know what you’re getting yourself into!!

What BBF panel or event are you the most excited about?

Ellie: I am the most excited to help present the One City One Story event this fall. Being a part of the process of helping to choose the story and eventually distribute it, I can’t wait to see how the rest of Boston will come together to react to and discuss its potent themes. 

Bree: I truly am excited for everything we have in store for this year’s festival. I’ve been able to discover new and local authors across all genres and can’t wait to hear the discussions and panels we have lined up. The collaborative effort going into the new format has been a challenge, but also super rewarding. I can’t wait for everyone to see it come through fruition.

Campbell: I’m actually really excited about At Home Boston this year! I really like getting little windows into people’s lives during this time. It makes me feel closer to the city when we can’t be together in person.

What is your go-to book recommendation?

Ellie: For any science fiction/fantasy lovers, I highly recommend The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. This medieval heroic fantasy is the first in an ongoing series, and it had me entranced in all its magic, adventure, sword fighting, and music. 

Bree: My go-to book recommendation is Born A Crime by Trevor Noah. If you’re familiar with Trevor Noah as the host of The Daily Show, you’ll enjoy this book. If you don’t know who Trevor Noah is, you’ll still enjoy this book. It’s both a heartbreaking and heartwarming memoir that’s bound to leave a lasting impression on your life. I suggest going for the audiobook, as Trevor’s narration takes the story to another level.

Campbell: I always find myself recommending Assata Shakur’s autobiography. This book really helped me understand and contextualize Black radicalism. Her story is so important to understand the legacy of racism in the United States. I also really loved her poetry that she inserted between chapters. The people “Story” at the end of the first chapter has been ringing in my ears ever since I first read it. You can read it for free online. Shakur wants everyone to read her story.

What 2020 book release are you most excited for?

Ellie: I’m most excited to read A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers. It is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with reincarnation, witches, and magic!

Bree: I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited for Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer. I read Twilight when I was thirteen, so I must honor that! But I’m also excited for Eat a Peach by David Chang. I love his Netflix shows Ugly Delicious and Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, so I look forward to learning more about his journey to becoming a chef.

Campbell: I’m most excited for Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse! I haven’t read any of her previous works, but I’m a big lover of sci-fi and fantasy and I keep seeing this title pop up. It’s inspired by Pre-Colombian American civilizations and beliefs and looks really exciting.

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At Home Boston: Dropped Connection and Other Essays

Boston Book Festival has launched a community writing project to capture this moment in history. We asked residents to send us stories of their experiences during the pandemic, from the acts of kindness by neighbors to the challenges in our biggest hospitals. We wanted to hear it all from all corners of the city. The following is the first selection of stories selected to be featured in the Boston Globe, our media partner in this project. Submissions will be accepted through June 30, 2020.

 

Anna Harris recently graduated from Boston University and is a Development Associate Intern at the Boston Public Library Fund.
My husband and I were on the road to divorce when the pandemic hit. I spent my nights on the couch. He took the bed. Our cat, always in between, couldn’t make up his mind, either.
Lately, I’ve noticed just how much people need people. You’d be surprised how much, and even more surprised by the ability and the strength people have to adapt—through difficulty, stress, uncertainty.
My husband and I share a bed now every night. Part of me is terrified that I’m stuck, like some sort of capsule holed up inside the 500 square feet of our Allston apartment. At the same time, I feel freer than I have in quite a while.
Last night, my husband cooked lasagna. I took out the trash. There’s something simple about living at home together, being there for each other. Before, I think we both lived on our own.
Though our space is crammed, our budget low, and our experiences, at times, are trying, right now, I feel luckier than I have in a long time. I’m noticing the beauty in everything around me, and I think we are going to make it.
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Faye Rapoport DesPres is a writer who lives in Cambridge.

The Stranger

I’ll never forget her calm voice as she explained that my husband had been in a bicycle accident. A stranger who had stopped to help, she must have known it could risk her life. She passed my husband’s phone to a police officer, who told me the ambulance was heading to Mass. General, “the closest hospital with a trauma unit accepting patients.” When she took the phone back, the stranger told me my husband was conscious, but not walking. I asked for her name.

No visitors were allowed at the ER. It took hours to learn the extent of his injuries: seven cracks in his ribs, torn ligaments in his shoulder, but no damage to his head, neck, or back. He’d tucked and rolled flying over the handlebars after a pickup truck took a right turn in front of him. He was wearing a good helmet.
Because of potential exposure, my husband recovered while quarantined in one room of our house. Four weeks later, I was laid off. We’ll be fine. My husband can walk.

I found her online; I wanted to thank her. She said knowing my husband was OK was the only thanks she needed.

~
Gretchen Ayoub is a single parent and educator living in West Roxbury.

My alarm rings at 5:30 a.m., in keeping with my efforts to maintain a regular schedule. I sip strong black coffee in the oversized Grand Canyon mug that my son gave me years ago.

He died last summer of a sudden heart attack at the age of 33, three months before his wedding. There were zero warnings. He was so healthy. I start each day trying to capture some of his endless kindness, encouragement, and optimism. I want to bottle his spirit and open the cap when isolation overcomes me.

How different it would have been if he had died this year. I tear up for all who lost loved ones and could not say goodbye, could not have visitors and hugs. The hugs I would have missed the most.

The grief tsunami still washes over me most days, but I also remember the love that enveloped me and my daughter; the many family and friends who cried with us. I remember the walks and coffee with friends who kept reaching out when I retreated. I mourn each day, but am grateful that he did not die alone. And that I did not grieve alone.

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Amy Sales is a social psychologist and lover of puzzles and lives in Jamaica Plain.

Comfort and Love in a Single Word

As I’m running out to do last-minute errands before the lockdown, my daughter calls from Texas.
“What’s up?” I ask.
“Just checking in on you.”
“Why? You worried about me?”
“Well, you’re in the high risk category, you live alone, you are my mother, and I love you. And, yes, I need to know that you’re okay.” At that moment, I realized how the pandemic has pushed my generation through a premature reversal of parent-child roles. And while I didn’t want to add to my daughter’s coronavirus fears, my independent streak did not want a daily check-in call.

A conundrum to be sure, but here is our inventive solution. Each day I do the Spelling Bee, a highly addictive, seven-letter anagram challenge on the NY Times app. The big prize is finding the pangram, a word that uses all seven letters. Each day I text my daughter the pangram as a sign that I’m still okay.

My days roll by in these sheltered times, each one marked by its pangram: parkland, bewitch, artfully, genotype, adjunct, compound, outgrown, implicitly. A daily text with a single word may seem nonsensical, but for us it says everything we need to know.

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Brent Whelan is a retired teacher living in Allston

Dropped Connection

I met Tyrell in December, in the big echo-y corridor of a Boston high school. His teacher introduced us, telling me he was a “sweet” kid who was struggling with his writing. I felt the sweetness right away.

Then came the struggle. His first assignment was to write a review about a rapper. I felt his powerful admiration, not for the music or poetry, but for the aura of success, the designer accessories, the fame. This all came out in warm monosyllables. I asked follow-up questions, and as he searched for words, I would say, ”That’s good. Write that down.” Once, our work abruptly stopped as he told me about his mother’s death when he was nine. He went silent for a long minute. When I asked, he said, “No, it’s all right.” We went on.
As our last session ended I said, “I’ll see you in March.” When March came, I had a persistent Covid-like dry cough, and by the time it resolved, schools were closed. I wrote to Tyrell’s teacher, asking if I could still work with him online, but her reply was tinged with sadness. He had slipped away from her, from school altogether, in the transition.

 

~

 

Linda K. Wertheimer, who teaches writing at Grub Street in Boston, is the author of Faith Ed, Teaching about Religion in an Age of Intolerance.
I wanted a peace I thought we could still find. It was late March during the early weeks of the pandemic, and the parking lot was packed at Concord’s Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge.
“Maybe we shouldn’t stay,” my husband said.
But Great Meadows was a sanctuary where my family of three could just be. I envisioned past trips when we stood at the wetlands’ edge, waiting, hoping to spot a heron or beaver.
“Let’s stay,” I said.
Going on a nature walk that day quickly became terrifying, as if we were Pac-Man dodging ghosts. With no state mask order yet, keeping distance from others was our only protection. Our 12-year-old son Simon ducked his face into his coat as we walked. We dodged passersby by stepping into bramble and lingered only for moments in viewing areas, fearing the breath of strangers. We saw a beaver dam, but no beavers.
Back home, my son looked worn. “We’re going to take care of each other, ok?” I said, hugging him. He grinned, offering a tween coping strategy. “I make you pancakes,” he said, referring to the breakfast he made today. “You make me everything else.” Home for now can be our sanctuary.

Tell us your story about these unprecedented times in less than 200 words. Read more about BBF’s At Home Boston community writing project, in partnership with the Boston Globe.

Follow Boston Book Festiva’s At Home Boston project on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Share these stories using the hashtag #athomeboston.

Read more At Home Boston stories:

At Home Boston: Putting my son to bed over FaceTime.

At Home Boston: First stories featured in Boston Globe

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At Home Boston: First stories featured in Boston Globe

 

Boston Book Festival has launched a community writing project to capture this moment in history. We asked residents to send us stories of their experiences during the pandemic, from the acts of kindness by neighbors to the challenges in our biggest hospitals. We wanted to hear it all from all corners of the city. The following is the first selection of stories selected to be featured in the Boston Globe, our media partner in this project. Submissions will be accepted through June 30, 2020.

 

By Jane deLima Thomas, who is a palliative care doctor at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

My father had a massive stroke on April 13th. My mother called me and said, “If you want to see him, you should come now.” Without thinking about COVID or my mother’s fragile immune system, I leaped into the car and drove to their home. I looked down at the man who had raised me and I scanned his face and hands, committing them to memory. I told him I loved him and I believe he mumbled that he loved me, too.

I am a palliative care doctor, and during the pandemic I’ve had to call families and tell them they couldn’t come to the hospital to see their dying loved ones. I have withstood their anger, tears, and begging, knowing it was safest for everyone – patients, staff, and families themselves – if they stayed away. I did my best to be compassionate, but it wasn’t until I felt the primal need to see my father one last time that I truly understood the terrible loss families experience when they are denied the same. And now I feel the heaviness of it deep in my chest every time I reach for the phone to make another call.

~

 

By Shahrin Islam, who is an AmeriCorps member serving as a Case Manager with Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program.

The last hour of a Ramadan fast goes by the slowest. I always find myself watching the clock more closely in this last hour but today, I am extra vigilant. My 12-hour shift at a facility for people experiencing homelessness who have tested positive for COVID19, will start at 7:00 PM.

At 6:50 PM, I enter the donning station, ready to gear up in personal protective equipment (PPE). I hesitate. And I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. Shortly, I must take off this PPE to break my fast when the sun sets. Using a set of PPE for only 30 minutes seems wasteful.

We usually take a break half way through our shift to conserve our limited supply of PPE. The other choice is to break my fast early. Again, I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. But I swallow my guilt along with a swig of water and finish donning my PPE by 6:59 PM.

Before I go in, I pray that my fast, though incomplete, is still valid. I pray for a cure, a vaccine, the government to make decisions with the safety and health of people in mind and for all of this to be over.

~

 

By Kate H Schlesinger, 

Katie’s video wasn’t working on Zoom, so I couldn’t see her face for our last class. Juliana didn’t make it to class at all. I had taught them in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades, watching them grow as thinkers, writers, and people, and this was the end. I never imagined that my students would become floating heads on a screen for brief weekly sessions rather than the living, breathing teenagers who burst into my classroom for class or help with an essay or because their friends were there or just because. I never imagined seeing students – athletes, artists, historians, mathematicians, noisy, thoughtful, quirky, determined, anxious, dancing, laughing, flirting, falling, thriving – flattened to two dimensions.

I never imagined that in our last history class students would only be faces in boxes as they analyzed documents, focusing on screens or books, never quite looking me in the eye. I never imagined that, not wanting to try to be inspirational to a screen, I would cut short my goodbye speech and let them go, my finger hovering over the “end” button as they said goodbye and left, knowing that without awards ceremonies or graduation, I may never see their faces again.

~

 

By Amrapali Maitra, a resident physician in Internal Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an anthropologist.

I often revisit the scene in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things where Ammu and Velutha meet at the riverbank.  The Big Things are overwhelming—the caste differences that forbid their love—so they focus on Small Things.  An insect has built a home out of rubbish and leaves.  They tend to minutiae like life depends on it.

The pandemic is a study in Small Things. On a walk, I hear a blue jay’s liquid screech. Enjoy fuchsia eruptions of rhododendrons in the Arboretum. Inhale ash from my neighbor’s backyard, conjuring nights of s’mores and songs. Spy a family of squirrels relocate to the rain gutter

COVID has transformed my identity as a doctor. In March, I cared for cancer patients. But while pregnant, every moment in the hospital became a negotiation between duty to others and obligation to the life inside me. So, I transitioned to virtual care.

Sitting at my dining table, I begin each phonecall, “This is Dr. Maitra!  How are you coping?” The words are chalky in my mouth. I swallow the guilt. Sheltering in place, I’m no hero. Then I feel my daughter’s forceful kicks and realize, I’m exactly where I need to be.

~

 

By Daina Wynot, a quintessential millennial who occasionally pretends she can write.

My grandmother called me over to her apartment complex to pick up a leftover meatball sub. She didn’t want it to go to waste and wasn’t taking no for an answer — I don’t think any grandmas will accept a “no” from their grandkids, especially when it comes to overfeeding them.

I donned the mask I made of leftover fabric from my attempt at crafting dog bandanas and set out to retrieve the package.

Grandma was standing outside when I arrived — folks who don’t live there aren’t allowed in — and I approached her with my phone facing outward. My 7-month-old nephew, her great-grandson, was on the screen, babbling away with a bottle in his mouth.

“Can he see me?” she asked, absolutely thrilled to learn that he could. “Oh, no wonder he’s shouting so much! Look at me, a crazy lady in a mask.”

After ending the call I was informed I would be taking her to get “one of those things” as soon as stores reopen.

“I can’t take my money with me,” Grandma said, and using it to buy a magic machine that lets her see her great-grandkids whenever she wants is a pretty good deal.

~

By Deborah Vatcher is a retired physician and oboist.

When was the sky ever so saturated, so clear, so blue? Absent that smoky haze? These cerulean depths—a Côte d’Azur overhead—invite a daring swim in a sky of pure color, as the Cooper’s Hawk dives for prey; and standing outside now, watching him, I feel giddy, caught in the undertow of these waves of clarity.

When was it ever a two-hour walk to the turtle pond and back? Before this pernicious twist of coronavirus slipped into circulation, it was a thirty-minute outing with DixieDudeDog at most. These days, I just never know. Between pauses to stare at the sky, mute, and in awe, I meet the neighbors, all home now, out in their yards, with tools and trimmers—busy with projects long-planned, and now, at last, well underway. Bill and his kids are planting a garden, and we spend some time talking about all that. And when I’m nearly back home, two women stop me, ask directions, and seem in no rush to move on. I’ll visit the egg farm on Hancock Street later this afternoon, walking there, of course, and pet the gray barn cat; and when was this cat ever so friendly, before?

~

 

By Jennifer Serafyn, a lawyer who lives in Dorchester with her husband, two sons, and their dog, Barkley.

It’s mid-March and our dog doesn’t realize that we’re all home in the middle of the day on a Wednesday. A school day. A work day. She doesn’t mind that when we go for our usual walk in Dorchester Park, we see no one. Not the guy who also has a beagle or the lady who doles out treats from her pocket.

It’s Easter and our dog doesn’t understand that no one is coming over for dinner. She doesn’t know about being over 70 and having lung disease. Instead, our dog jumps onto my lap as we Zoom with family to celebrate virtually. Safely.

It’s mid-May and our dog doesn’t notice that the bike path along the Neponset River is more crowded than usual. She wags her tail and sniffs the grass as runners, cyclists, rollerbladers, and walkers pass by. She doesn’t care that most of them are wearing masks.

Soon it will be June. My sons will turn 9 and 11. School will end. Our dog will continue to meander through the days, unaware. That’s all we can be sure of.

~

By Chris Kelly, a public relations consultant and walker of Buddy.

My son and I were walking our dog when we saw someone walking toward us on the same side of the street. The person was wearing a long coat, a baseball hat, and over the bottom half of their face, a bandanna.  “Let’s cross,” I said, steering us to the other side of the empty street.

As we passed, the person called out. “Hi! Windy day, huh?”

“Yes!” I agreed as we walked past.  A block further, my brain connected the voice and the covered-up form with our neighbor. Not only had we crossed the street to avoid her, but we’d barely acknowledged her greeting.

Often, we walk our dog another route, past a home built in the 1600s. It’s been there through wars and assassinations, a Great Depression, 9/11, hurricanes and blizzards.  So many different events with one thing in common: people gathering to support each other through them.

But now, we can’t gather, and “social distancing” means that when we see someone approaching, we cross the street or trespass someone’s yard or dart into traffic; anything to avoid contact. Today, hurriedly moving away is a way to take care of one another.

 

Tell us your story about these unprecedented times in less than 200 words. Read more about BBF’s At Home Boston community writing project, in partnership with the Boston Globe.

Follow Boston Book Festiva’s At Home Boston project on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Share these stories using the hashtag #athomeboston.

Read more At Home Boston stories: At Home Boston: Putting my son to bed over FaceTime.

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At Home Boston: Putting my son to bed over FaceTime

By Megan O’Connor, a physician assistant in a Boston hospital and now a long-distance mom

It’s 7:30 p.m. and I’m leaving work. The phone rings. Bedtime is a little later these days so that we can have dinner together.

“Mumumumumum!” It’s my one year old, who is now living two hours from me at my mother’s house, along with my wife, so I don’t infect them. Over FaceTime, I watch as he learns to eat with a spoon. He feeds me through the video and then slobbers a goodnight kiss on the screen.

It’s been an exhausting day and I’m longing for my pillow. Each day holds a different struggle. Today, I had Zoom meetings with family members who can’t see their loved ones and want updates from a face rather than a voice. Over the phone, I attempt to coach a young man on making crucial medical decisions as well as how to cope as a child who is losing his mother.

Before I curl under the blanket, the phone buzzes with a text from my partner: our sonogram’s fuzzy outline provides solace. I press on with renewed energy to take on one more day.

Photo: FaceTime dinner dates between mother and son.

Tell us your story about these unprecedented times. We are accepting non-fiction essays of less than 200 words. Read more about BBF’s At Home Boston community writing project, in partnership with the Boston Globe.

Share this story using the hashtag #athomeboston.

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