Your BBF 2021 Guide to Young Adult Sessions

Hello readers! It’s Jessica from Team BBF, here to guide you through our schedule for the 2021 Boston Book Festival.

As you’ve probably experienced from past Boston Book Festivals, the sheer number of sessions is like a literary feast set out for hungry readers (the last in-person Festival we hosted had over 150 sessions!). But you’ve also probably felt that panic of “What do I choose?” when you open up that two-page multi-colored spread of sessions in the program guide. (I know I have!)

Because that schedule can be a bit daunting, even in a virtual year, we’re here to help you find the sessions you want to attend so you can see a favorite author, learn something new, think about the world around you in different ways, or discover some new reads for your TBR pile. And because the majority of our sessions will be virtual this year, you don’t need to worry about sprinting down Boylston Street or Washington Street to get to the next session (being sure to grab a grilled cheese on the way). Let’s get started!

Young Adult Sessions for 2021

YA literature has grown into a category that’s not just entertaining for teens and adults alike, but that has served as the vehicle for authors to explore deeper topics of identity, belonging, relationships, societal injustices, and more. This year we’re highlighting some of those topics in our YA sessions, which range from new takes on old tales (Classics Remixed), how to act in a time of unrest (Revolution and Resistance Then and Now), a memoir of growing up Black and queer (Memoir Keynote), and new takes on nature writing (This Session’s for the Birds). We also have a session featuring the intergenerational work of a family of writers (Lifelong Learning Keynote). Teens will also have the chance to connect with other teens and learn about the arts and activist history of Nubian Square as well.

Here’s your guide to our YA sessions.


Lifelong Learning Keynote

Tamara Payne, with hosts Jurianny Guerrero and Kellie Carter Jackson

Saturday, October 16 at 5:00pm | Virtual

This session is for readers interested in…: The life of Malcolm X, but also how biography is researched and written.

What you’ll find in this session: A conversation with Pulitzer Prize winner Tamara Payne, who, after her father passed away, stepped in to finish his exhaustive biography of Malcolm X, already decades in the works. She’ll be in conversation with Wellesley College professor Kellie Carter Jackson and Fenway High School senior Jurianny Guerrero.

What you’ll take away from it: The depths of research it takes to compile a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, as well as one family’s ongoing work to do just that.

Session is sponsored by the Eric and Jane Nord Family Fund.



YA: Classics Remixed

C.B. Lee and Bethany C. Morrow, with host Laura Berestecki

Monday, October 18 at 5:30pm | Virtual (prerecorded)

This session is for readers interested in…: Discovering more YA authors who are reinterpreting classics through new cultural lenses and fresh takes.

What you’ll find in this session: How authors C.B. Lee and Bethany C. Morrow remixed their source material—one a queer retelling of Treasure Island, the other a retelling of Little Women centered on formerly enslaved Black people—to bring more culturally relevant and diverse takes on classic literature. They’ll be in conversation with BPL’s YA librarian Laura Berestecki.

What you’ll take away from it: Reimagining classics, myths, and fairy tales is hot (BookTok hot) these days, and you can hear how authors are crafting and rethinking these old stories for new audiences.

Session is sponsored by Simmons University.



YA: This Session’s for the Birds

Derrick Z. Jackson, Stephen Kress, and Rosemary Mosco, with host Jeremy Spool

Wednesday, October 20 at 4:00pm | Virtual (prerecorded)

This session is for readers interested in…: Learning more about the natural world, and getting to know some feathery friends a bit better.

What you’ll find in this session: Pigeons and puffins will be the focus, as Rosemary Mosco gives us a rundown of the quirks and fun facts about pigeons, while ornithologist Stephen W. Kress and photographer Derrick Z. Jackson will tell the story of repopulating puffins in Maine. They’ll be in conversation with Jeremy Spool of the Massachusetts Young Birders Club.

What you’ll take away from it: Find out some fun facts about familiar and not so familiar birds, as well as hear from nature writers on their craft.



YA: Revolution and Resistance Then and Now

Kekla Magoon, Jamia Wilson, Crystal M. Fleming, and De Nichols, with host Carissa Romain

Thursday, October 21 at 4:00pm | Virtual (prerecorded)

This session is for readers interested in…: Learning about the history of activism, and finding out how to engage in the present moment.

What you’ll find in this session: Four authors—National Book Award finalist Kekla Magoon, Jamia Wilson, Crystal M. Fleming, and De Nichols—will discuss protest and activist movements, from a history of the Black Panthers and the feminist movement, to how young people can take action to speak up and fight injustice today. They’ll be in conversation with Carissa Romain.

What you’ll take away from it: More context around our present moment of protest, and actions to take to combat injustice today.

Sessions is sponsored by Candlewick Press.



BPL Roxbury Branch Reopening: BBF Unbound BEAT Tour


Saturday, October 23 at 1:00pm | In Person

This session is for readers interested in…: Discovering more about Nubian Square’s activist and arts history from METCO students on an in-person tour.

What you’ll find in this session: Attendees will be introduced to Nubian Square’s history and its many organizers and civil rights workers as they participate in the Boston Education Activism Tour (BEAT) tour, led by high school students in the METCO program.

What you’ll take away from it: New insights into our local history, and inspiration on taking action to make the world a better place today.


YA: Memoir Keynote

George M. Johnson, with host Nicholl Montgomery

Saturday, October 23 at 2:30pm | Virtual

This session is for readers interested in…: Hearing from the author of All Boys Aren’t Blue on their newest memoir.

What you’ll find in this session: George M. Johnson’s new memoir We Are Not Broken tells the story of their growing up as a queer Black boy, their relationship with their three siblings, and the fiercely loving grandmother that raised them. Johnson will be in conversation with children’s literature professor Nicholl Montgomery.

What you’ll take away from it: Inspiration in hearing the story of a queer Black author’s childhood, and the foundational love and support found there.

Session is sponsored by Simmons University.




I hope this guide has helped you get a glimpse into the vast array of writers and what they’re working on who will join us for the 2021 Boston Book Festival. Head to the main schedule to browse all sessions and for registration links, and we’ll see you there!


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Your BBF 2021 Guide to Sessions for Writers

Hello writers! It’s Jessica from Team BBF, here to guide you through our schedule for the 2021 Boston Book Festival.

As you’ve probably experienced from past Boston Book Festivals, the sheer number of sessions is like a literary feast set out for hungry readers (the last in-person Festival we hosted had over 150 sessions!). But you’ve also probably felt that panic of “What do I choose?” when you open up that two-page multi-colored spread of sessions in the program guide. (I know I have!)

Because that schedule can be a bit daunting, even in a virtual year, we’re here to help you find the sessions you want to attend so you can see a favorite author, learn something new, think about the world around you in different ways, or discover some new reads for your TBR pile. And because the majority of our sessions will be virtual this year, you don’t need to worry about sprinting down Boylston Street or Washington Street to get to the next session (being sure to grab a grilled cheese on the way). Let’s get started!

Sessions for Writers for 2021

The Boston Book Festival doesn’t just cater to readers and fans of authors and books, but wants to train and inspire the writers creating those books, too. Each year we host a series of sessions for writers to help better understand the craft or the business of writing. This year, writers can examine the role of climate change in fiction (BBF Unbound: A Warming World and Your WIP: Facing Up to the Climate Emergency in Your Fiction), prepare to apply to MFA programs (Under the Hood: A Look at What’s in a Low-Residency MFA Program), learn the path to self-publishing (Self-Publishing Your Children’s Book), discuss craft and audience with other Black writers (Who We Are Writing For: Black Authors Discuss Craft and Audience), or simply hear other writers read their flash fiction (Boston in 100 Words Awards Ceremony).

Here’s your guide to our sessions for writers.


Boston in 100 Words Awards Ceremony

Saturday, October 16 at 6:00pm | In Person/Virtual

This session is for writers interested in…: Hearing flash fiction writers read their work in person at Trident (or virtually).

What you’ll find in this session: Boston in 100 Words will be announcing the winners of their second annual flash contest that highlights everyday writers crafting stories about the neighborhoods they live in. Hear about the local and global initiative, and meet the winners.

What you’ll take away from it: A night out (or in) hearing inspired, well-crafted, insightful short stories about the city we love.

Session is hosted by Boston in 100 Words.


Under the Hood: A Look at What’s in a Low-Residency MFA Program

Danielle Legros Georges, Heather Hughes, and Janet Pocorobba

Sunday, October 17 at 2:00pm | Virtual

This session is for writers interested in…: Pursuing an MFA and who want to know more about what to look for in a program.

What you’ll find in this session: Lesley University program director Danielle Legros Georges, associate director Janet Pocorobba, and MFA alum Heather Hughes will answer all your questions about what attending a low-resident MFA program is like, the work required, what to look for in a program, and more.

What you’ll take away from it: Knowledge and insight to make the right decision for the future of your writing career.

Session is sponsored by Lesley University.



BBF Unbound: A Warming World and Your WIP: Facing Up to the Climate Emergency in Your Fiction

Julie Carrick Dalton and Erica Ferencik

Monday, October 18 at 12:30pm | In Person

This session is for writers interested in…: Investigating climate change in their fiction—or who know they’ll have to someday soon—in an outdoors session at the waterfront.

What you’ll find in this session: Held on the Seaport’s waterfront, authors Julie Carrick Dalton and Erica Ferencik will lead a discussion of how climate change is represented in fiction, how fiction writers should approach climate change in their writing, and writing prompts for further story creation.

What you’ll take away from it: Further your awareness of craft by learning how to tackle new themes, and how to use them in future work.

Session is presented in partnership with GrubStreet and ICA Boston.



Who We Are Writing For: Black Authors Discuss Craft and Audience

Tatiana Johnson-Boria and Simeon Marsalis, with host James Bennett II

Thursday, October 21 at 5:30pm | Virtual

This session is for writers interested in…: Discussions around how to craft stories and narratives for certain audiences.

What you’ll find in this session: Authors Tatiana Johnson-Boria and Simeon Marsalis will have a craft talk on how Black writers can approach their work and their audiences. They’ll be in conversation with GBH News Arts & Culture reporter James Bennett II.

What you’ll take away from it: A better understanding of the Black literary community.

Session is presented by GBH.



Self-Publishing Your Children’s Book

Delanda Coleman, Valerie Foxx, and Candelaria Silva, with host Cagen Luse

Friday, October 22 at 3:00pm | Virtual (prerecorded)

This session is for writers interested in…: Learning the ins and outs of how to self-publish a children’s book.

What you’ll find in this session: Three self-published children’s authors—Delanda Coleman, Valerie Foxx, and Candelaria Silva—will share their journey from story idea to story writing to how to successful take the self-publishing journey. They’ll be in conversation with co-founder of Comics in Color Cagen Luse, whose son Coleman will join to tell about how he’s self-publishing his own comic book.

What you’ll take away from it: Both the knowledge and the confidence on how to self-publish the children’s book that you’ve always wanted to write and send out into the world.




I hope this guide has helped you get a glimpse into the vast array of writers and what they’re working on who will join us for the 2021 Boston Book Festival. Head to the main schedule to browse all sessions and for registration links, and we’ll see you there!


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2021 Boston Book Festival Headliners: Finding Meaning and Connection through Words and Images

Grid of presenter headshots

How does a writer respond to events as heavy and impacting as those of these past two years? A global pandemic and the disruption of health, business, and societal connections as we knew them, as well as grassroots movements fighting for the end of systemic racism, a political race with the future of our nation at stake, all against the backdrop of an impending climate crisis.

Everyone lived it. But writers and artists also have the added task of making sense of the world around them, creating meaning from chaos, and finding the humanity, connection, and truth at the core of our shared existence.

That’s what our 2021 Boston Book Festival headliners are seeking to do in their work: make meaning of recent events, or look at history through the lens of new ideas, insights, or identities, or interrogate big themes through fiction, satire, or genre, or simply find the human connection between all of us.

Here are some of the common themes found in our headliners’ work, and how they are fulfilling the Boston Book Festival’s mission by using “the power of words to stimulate, agitate, unite, delight, and inspire.”

Analyzing the Societal Impact of COVID

The Boston Book Festival kick-off keynote session will feature Nicholas A. Christakis, whose book Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live not only details the COVID-19 pandemic, but seeks to understand its impact on human society. A sociologist and physician whose research focuses on both the social and biological ways people form connections, Christakis asks what it means to live during a pandemic—something few of us have done across history.

Joining Christakis will be Sandro Galea, whose new book The Contagion Next Time looks at how to combat new epidemics, and how it will involve a commitment to—and perhaps a reimagining of—public health that starts with addressing systemic poverty in order to create a more equitable, just, and healthy society.

The Past Informs the Present

The theme of using history to inform our current time continues with headliners who seek to address the racial unrest in our country and examine how its roots in the past continue to branch into the present.

Pulitzer Prize winner Annette Gordon-Reed’s book On Juneteenth details the events leading up June 19, 1865, the date that marks the end of legalized slavery in America, a history that informed the long-awaited creation of Juneteenth as a national holiday this past year. The long shadow of the Civil War is also the topic of Clint Smith’s How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America (longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award), which examines the sites where monuments and landmarks keep slavery alive, and the stories they tell—or don’t tell. Kekla Magoon looks to history to inform the present moment as well in Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People (longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for young people’s literature), a history of the Black Panther Party and Black community activism, tracing a line to the Black Lives Matter movement today. The Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award–winning biography The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X, completed by Tamara Payne after the death of her journalist father Les Payne, seeks to put Malcolm X within the context of history: his upbringing, his family’s beliefs, and the systemic racism that still continues. Former Poet Laureate of the U.S. Tracy K. Smith also explores the impact of history in her new collection Such Color: New and Selected Poems, asking questions of America’s history of racism and pushing back against the shadows of the past.

Family, Community, and Connection

Our headliners are also looking to the past to inform their present, but on a much more micro scale, investigating family history—whether their own or someone else’s—and the community around them to make sense of their personal history, identity, and connection.

George M. Johnson’s new memoir We Are Not Broken seeks to tell their own story of Black boyhood, growing up with three brothers and the grandmother that raised them, and to use that story to demonstrate the connections of family and how they inform the adults we become. In All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake (longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award), Tiya Miles also seeks to uncover family connections—literally—as she researches a mother and daughter parted in the slave trade in 1852, and the objects that linked them and their descents. Author Tricia Elam Walker and artist Ekua Holmes looked to the past—their childhood in Roxbury—to create the picture book Dream Street, about the everyday people that live in a community and the importance of the connections between them.

Action Today for a Better Future

Our headliners also look at the events and culture around us and anticipate the future—and ask how we should respond.

In his collection of graphic essays Save It for Later: Promises, Parenthood, and the Urgency of Protest, Nate Powell interrogates the idea of what it means to be a parent in our current age of protest and unrest and in what ways he should prepare his children for future activism. Anita Diamant investigates the state of people who menstruate worldwide in Period. End of Sentence. A New Chapter in the Fight for Menstrual Justice and uses stories, anecdotes, and historical fact to encourage normalization of the conversation and ongoing action against menstrual injustice. In Imagine It!: A Handbook for a Happier Planet, Laurie David provides an actionable guidebook for those wanting to reduce their footprint and adopt more sustainable living habits to help combat the increasing threat of climate change.

Race in the (Fictional) Workplace

Unlike historians or reporters, fiction writers have the freedom to use crafted characters and literary tools like metaphor, satire, and analogy to explore timely truths—and two of our fiction headliners are doing just that.

The novel Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour takes a satirical look at workplace culture in America through a main character who is a mysterious company’s only Black salesman, and his witty commentary on the inherent racism of startup culture. Zakiya Dalila Harris’s novel The Other Black Girl follows the only Black editorial assistant at a prestigious white publishing house—and her reaction to the second Black employee that arrives—and provides a commentary on the lack of Black representation in publishing through the guise of a thriller.

Leveraging Genre Fiction to Imagine and Subvert

Authors have long used genre to explore questions of race, justice, equality, identity, and other topics that mainstream or literary fiction doesn’t give the latitude to explore. Two of our headliners are using genre as their medium through which to explore the world around us.

Alyssa Cole’s romance novel How to Find a Princess is rife with the elements of a good rom-com—a secret past, a fake marriage, a high-seas journey—yet those tropes are the vehicle for a queer retelling of the story of Anastasia as well as the inclusion of neurodivergent characters. In the speculative fiction novel The Freedom Race, Lucinda Roy imagines what an America that has reinstituted slavery after a second Civil War would look like and how emancipation can come by competing against others in a race to freedom.

Join the BBF Headliners October 16-23

So how does a writer respond to the world around them, and create art not just from the events and unrest of the current moment, but from the connections between them and others, and from their own understanding of themselves and their identity? Find out at the Boston Book Festival, held virtually on October 16-23. Look for our headliner session list to be released soon.

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“Our Community Needs to Heal”: A Chinatown elementary school librarian’s quest to rebuild through books

A grant from the Boston Book Festival aims to expand this elementary school’s library collection.

Books can be bought and donated by accessing Josiah Quincy’s wish list here, or you can also visit the BBF’s donate page to donate directly!

Chinatown’s Josiah Quincy Elementary School community was hit hard by the pandemic, but school librarian Heidi Boulogne is hoping to rebuild through books.

“Over the past year our students have endured trauma, loss of social connection, fear associated with the pandemic, in addition to the social unrest we currently face. Our community needs to heal, and the healing needs to start with our children. Our students love books. They love coming to the library and would appreciate having new books to borrow!”

“Our community needs to heal, and the healing needs to start with our children.”

Josiah Quincy Elementary is the winner of this year’s Shelf Help Partnership for elementary students and will be treated to a very special author visit organized by Wondermore, a local nonprofit dedicated to bringing authors to children in underserved communities. In addition, the school will receive new books, curated by Boulogne, to fill the shelves with titles that meet the school’s population.

“As a multicultural school we are currently trying to increase our culturally diverse texts for our Black and LatinX students, and find books celebrating Asian heritage. Students are happy to see books with characters that look like them and that celebrate their culture. It is also important for our students to see realities and experiences different from their own,” says Boulogne, an attorney-turned-school librarian.

“Students are happy to see books with characters that look like them and that celebrate their culture. It is also important for our students to see realities and experiences different from their own.”

Fondly referred to as JQES, this school serves over 850 students grades pre-K through 5th grade, with over 70% of the school’s families are functioning at or below the poverty level. “Our school does not have an annual budget for library books or author visits and so we rely on grants and fundraising to support the library,” says Boulogne. She has selected dozens of titles that reflect the kids that visit her space each day, from Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali’s The Proudest Blue to Andrea Wang and Jason Chin’s Watercress.

Books can be bought and donated by accessing Josiah Quincy’s wish list here, or you can also visit the BBF’s donate page to donate directly! Upon checking out, select “Make this a gift” and designate “Shelf Help” as the gift recipient in the appropriate box. 

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BBF Unbound 2021: Seeking Submissions

The BBF Unbound series of community-curated sessions annually offers a bounty of creative sessions and workshops proposed by members of our community. Over the past ten years, BBF Unbound sessions have focused on self-publishing, political storytelling, writing about animals, writing about homelands and their complicated histories, and writings by veterans. We love hearing your ideas for sessions and working with you to develop successful BBF presentations and workshops—and putting BBF Unbound on hiatus was one of the hardest decisions we made when planning 2020’s virtual BBF.

In 2021, however, we are back in person and eager to re-launch the BBF Unbound program, too! We’re now accepting proposals for 2021 BBF Unbound sessions, to be presented at the Boston Book Festival on October 16 (in Copley Square) and October 23 (in Nubian Square/Roxbury), or in various other locations Boston-wide during the intervening weekdays.

We are looking for outside groups/individuals who can introduce fresh voices and new ideas to the BBF. Be creative! The session can involve a debate, demo, workshop, literary improv, dramatic readings, panel discussion, literary games, etc. We are not looking for product promotions, plugs for businesses, or sessions featuring a single author publicizing his or her book. We are especially interested in program proposals from organizations and individuals based in Roxbury, as well as by curators who represent communities historically underrepresented in publishing and literary programming. 

Note that in 2021, due to venue limitations, we are particularly interested in proposals that move outdoors or outside of the traditional classroom or lecture hall setting. Have an idea for a literary themed walking tour, scavenger hunt, traveling performance, immersive workshop, or dance party that engages with the cityscapes of Back Bay, Roxbury, or beyond? Get inspired, and pitch it to us! Not sure if your session is what we’re looking for? Try us! We are always willing to work with BBF Unbound producers to fine-tune their proposals so they’ll work within the larger literary landscape of the Boston Book Festival.

You will be responsible for running your session, i.e., gathering participants, beginning and ending on time, and covering any expenses (beyond room rental and basic A/V). We will publicize your session on our website and in our Program Guide, and we will expect you to publicize it via your networks as well. Presenters who come to us via BBF Unbound receive all the same benefits as any invited presenters: a presenter badge, a headshot and bio on the BBF website, and invitations to the kickoff cocktail reception and afterparty.

We will evaluate proposals based on: 1. Will the content appeal to the BBF audience? 2. Does the content offer something different from standard BBF fare? 3. Is the individual/group offering a plausible plan for implementing the session?

The deadline to apply has now passed—applicants will be notified of their selection by mid-July.

Questions?: Contact Norah Piehl,

If you would like to submit a hard copy of your proposal, or if you would like to submit supporting materials, please send them to:

Norah Piehl, Executive Director
Boston Book Festival
32R Essex St. Cambridge, MA 02139

We look forward to reviewing your submissions!

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Brave New Whirl: Talking Literary Trivia with COVEN

As Lit Crawl 2021 draws nearer, literary and media enthusiasts across the Boston area are surely getting excited for any of this year’s sessions. One session, “Brave New Whirl” hosted by the Charitable Organization of Very Enthusiastic Nerds (COVEN), offers a particularly exciting opportunity for pop-culture experts, with a literary trivia wheel and prizes for attendees. In anticipation, we spoke to Marisa, a member of COVEN, about Lit Crawl, what it means to be a “nerd,” and more. Remember to register for Lit Crawl 2021 here!

BBF: What can audiences unfamiliar with COVEN expect or look forward to from your Lit Crawl session and Literary Trivia Wheel?

Marisa: As our name suggests, from us you can always expect enthusiasm! Enthusiasm for books, enthusiasm for Lit Crawl, and enthusiasm for testing the knowledge of fellow book lovers through an obsessively detailed activity—in this case, a custom, handmade prize wheel! You’ll stop by, answer a trivia question, and then (if you answer correctly) spin the wheel to determine your prize, which could range from a literary-themed button to your choice of a book. And while you’re there, we’ll also give you a chance to vote on what our next trivia event will be. 

BBF: How do you define “nerd?” Clearly it’s a positive, but what do you think really embodies the spirit of the title?

Marisa: Great question. We consider ourselves nerds because of our heightened affinity for specific topics, which tends to always result in deep dives verging on obsession. Whether it’s evangelizing the perfection of Schitt’s Creek to anyone who will listen, meeting weekly over Zoom in the middle of a pandemic to watch Doctor Who together (because a couple of us had not seen it and that can not be allowed to stand), or attending every Lit Crawl and literary trivia together, we are constantly channeling our aforementioned enthusiasm into some form of pop culture/art. 

BBF: What has been your favorite part of working with and fundraising for the Boston community? Do any specific events stand out in your memory? 

Marisa: It’s been incredible just to see how many people come out and support the organizations we’ve raised money for. We only charge $5 at the door, but we’ve always raised significantly more than $5 per person thanks to the generosity of the people who show up at our events. We had only been doing this for about a year before the pandemic hit, but the first event we ever did is definitely a highlight. We hosted Schitt’s Creek trivia to raise money for Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. We just thought it would be a fun way to raise money for them leading up to their annual walk, and we were at peak Schitt’s Creek obsession at the time. We had no idea how many people would actually show up. But in the end we filled the restaurant with 50 attendees, many of whom dressed in costume, and we raised $1,200. The energy at that event and the elation we felt afterward was magical and motivated us to do more. 

BBF: How has the past year shaped your approach to events, outreach, and/or community building, both virtually and as we return to in-person? 

Marisa: We have managed to pivot to virtual events during the pandemic and have held four of them so far. A silver lining is that we have been able to reach people outside of the Boston area for these events. The downside is that Zoom fatigue is real, for us and our audience. But as we’ve continued to witness the horrific results of systemic racism over the past year, we’ve felt more motivated than ever to make a difference. We’re trying to put our enthusiasm toward raising money and awareness for the people and organizations who most need allies right now. And now we have both in-person and virtual approaches in our arsenal!

COVEN’s Lit Crawl drop-in activity, “Brave New Whirl,” will take place on June 10 at Cambridge’s Starlight Square, from 7-9pm. For more information and to register, visit the Lit Crawl schedule.

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Q&A: Ekphrastic poetry in Graffiti Alley

The Boston Book Festival team was excited to sit down with Alexis Ivy, one of many presenters on this year’s exciting Lit Crawl lineup. Alexis’s session, entitled “Conversations with Art: Ekphrastic Writing in Graffiti Alley,” will be an opportunity for audiences to converse with their immediate surroundings through ekphrasis, a writing style focused on descriptions of art. Below, see some of Alexis’s thoughts on the creative process and how Boston as a community influences work across mediums. And snag one of just a few spots left for this free workshop on June 10th by signing up here.

BBF: What can audiences look forward to from your session at Lit Crawl?

Alexis Ivy: Writers will have the chance to be playful with language and selfhood.

BBF: How is writing poetry specifically inspired by art different from other writing endeavors?

AI: Ekphrastic poetry lets writers go to places they hadn’t thought of. Whether a translation or inspiration, art allows a writer to work in the form of persona. The exercise of ekphrasis brings unfamiliar and surprising language to the page by its ever-changing perspectives of looking at a piece of art. Art adds a creative complication to the writing making your words wondrously more dynamic and unique.

BBF: How has the past year influenced or informed your writing style or your artistic focus?

AI: I have learned I need to be away from home in order to focus on my manuscript. Since life has been all homelife, home has taken on a different definition for me as a writer. It has stopped being a refuge for me as a writer. My focus hasn’t changed as much as my artistic space.

BBF: Being Boston-born, what is your favorite aspect of the Boston-area community?

AI: Writers celebrate the literary history of our streets. The art of words is a wonderful call to action. Whether it’s poetry on the T, sidewalk poetry, public readings, library branch workshops—this city’s collaboration of writers make sure everyone’s words are seen, spoken, heard.

Sign up for this workshop at at Lit Crawl 2021!


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At Lit Crawl, A Poem Made Just for You

Boston Book Festival is excited to have Mass Poetry presenting at Lit Crawl 2021! The organization supports the poets of Massachusetts by both providing resources to poets and educating the public. You can learn more about Mass Poetry’s “Poems To Go” session here and by reading our Q&A with Erica Charis-Molling, Mass Poetry’s education director. 

BBF: Could you tell us a little about your presenters for “Poems To Go”?

Erica: Cassandra de Alba is a poet living in Massachusetts. Her chapbooks are habitats (Horse Less Press, 2016), Ugly/Sad (Glass Poetry Press, 2020) and Cryptids (Ginger Bug Press, 2020). Her work has appeared in The Shallow Ends, Big Lucks, and Wax Nine, among other publications. She is a poetry reader for Underblong and an instructor at the Redbud Writing Project.

Julia Story is the author of Post Moxie (Sarabande Books) and the chapbooks The Trapdoor (dancing girl press) and Julie the Astonishing (Sixth Finch Books). She is a 2016 recipient of a Pushcart Prize and her recent work can be read in Sixth Finch, Tinderbox, and Tupelo Quarterly. She is a Midwesterner who now lives in Massachusetts.

Together they form two-thirds of the Traveling Poetry Emporium. [The Traveling Poetry Emporium types original poems on the spot at museums, festivals, and parties on any subject the guests have in mind.]

What do you hope attendees and viewers at Lit Crawl Boston 2021 will take away from your “Poems To Go” session?

Erica: A personalized, one-of-a-kind poem written on a topic of their choice! I hope they’ll also come away with a sense of the living, breathing, every-day-ness of poetry—that it’s not just something tucked away in some dusty book on the top shelf, but rather something you might encounter anywhere and can intersect your life at any moment if you’re open to it.

Could you suggest chapbooks for our BBF readers by Boston poets?

Erica: Our Traveling Poetry Emporium poets have several books and chapbooks that I would recommend! In particular, Cassandra de Alba’s Ugly/Sad and Julia Story’s The Trapdoor would be great chapbooks to check out. Folks wanting further reading recommendations are welcome to check out our series here.

Lastly, what is it about Massachusetts that makes the state such fertile ground for poetry?

Erica: Man, this question is a doozy! I think Massachusetts is a place with a lot of poetic history, which in many ways has primed the soil. I also think it’s a place with a whole web of supports and opportunities for new and experienced poets—through institutions like the Mass Cultural Council [also a funder for Lit Crawl Boston], local cultural councils and governments (many of whom have expanded or started poet programs across the state), academic institutions, really vibrant grass-roots open mic communities, and literary nonprofits like Mass Poetry. There’s been a well-documented rise in poetry readership in the United States and all of that helps Massachusetts capitalize on that climbing desire for poetry. (There may also be something in the water. I haven’t tested it recently to be sure.)

We hope Lit Crawl Boston 2021 attendees appreciate the wealth of poetry in the state of Massachusetts, and take the opportunity to acquire new poems at Lit Crawl Boston 2021! More information on dates, time slots, and presenters can be found here. We can’t wait to see you June 10!

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Bibliomemoir: Putting Books in Conversation with Author Kim Adrian

This year, the Boston Book Festival’s annual Lit Crawl will mark an exciting return to in-person events for the Boston literary community. We had the opportunity to sit down with author Kim Adrian. Kim will be hosting her session, “The Art of (Writing About) Reading,” as a way to introduce audiences to the art of the bibliomemoir. Register here for this session on June 10 at Lit Crawl 2021!

BBF: What can audiences unfamiliar with bibliomemoir look forward to from your session at Lit Crawl?

Kim: The audience will hear from four practitioners of the genre—four writers with four different approaches to combining literary analysis with memoir. One of the readers, Adam Colman (New Uses for Failure) has described bibliomemoir as “a genre that eats other genres.” This is usually the thing that people get most excited about when they learn about this type of writing. For example, Kim McLarin’s bibliomemoir about James Baldwin’s novel Another Country combines a critical examination of the work with personal reflections on how Baldwin (and many other Black American writers) helped turn her into the woman and the writer she is today. At the same time, there’s a hefty strand of cultural criticism running throughout the whole thing, so the text feels very densely woven: personal, political-cultural, and literary all at once. Bibliomemoir encourages multifaceted or multivalent writing like this because you’ve always got at least two things going on: the writer writing reflectively on a personal experience (reading a book), and, at the same time, the writer examining why that book is (or perhaps is not) successful. For those comfortable working in this way it’s very tempting to add a third and perhaps even a fourth element into the mix.

BBF: How does “removing the glaze of pretension” influence the process of interpreting works of literature, either in general or in your specific experience?

Kim: With the phrase “removing the glaze of pretension” I mean getting out of the kind of faux-objective critical mode of passing judgement, speaking from on high, from a position of authority, which is the attitude most people associate with literary criticism, art criticism, criticism in general. That attitude implies that a work of art exists as an objective thing in the world, and that, as an objective thing, it requires a special kind of sensibility, a specially trained intellect, to be correctly perceived and interpreted. But a work of art does not exist in a vacuum. It is not a stable, immutable entity. In fact, there are as many ways to experience, for example, a great novel as there are readers of that novel, which is another way of saying that the novel itself changes for each reader. This is the premise on which bibliomemoir is based. The genre embraces the messiness of literature, the dynamism involved in the act of reading. That said, a good bibliomemoir will always take the act of criticism very seriously. But by its very nature bibliomemoir rejects the idea of critic-as-authortative-taste-maker, or critic-as-judge, and embraces, instead, criticism as a kind of creative, generative activity. 

BBF: How do you think Boston, as a community or location, can contribute to the tradition of bibliomemoir? What aspects of the city do you think enrich literary criticism?

Kim: Bibliomemoir seems to be a growing genre right now. Much like microhistory, bibliomemoir upends a specific, traditional cultural structure—in this case the kind of authoritative perspective (rooted in entrenched power structures) that conventional criticism upholds. In this sense, it is an inherently political genre—a liberal or democratic genre. Boston is a left-leaning city that just so happens to be packed with great readers. If bibliomemor, as a genre, has a shot at finding a solid foothold with a hungry audience, Boston readers could well be the ones to make that happen.

BBF: How has the past year influenced your work, if at all?

Kim: It’s been a freaky year for me, of course. I’m no exception to that rule. COVID affected the launch of my bibliomemoir, Dear Knausgaard, pushing off the launch date by several months and putting events online. But it also nudged me into a new direction in my writing. For one thing, it got me thinking about magical thinking, simply because there was so much of that going on, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. Thinking about magical thinking got me thinking about imagination in general, so that I now find myself doing a lot of research on that topic. Beyond that, the further growth of the Black Lives Matter movement has affected everything—the whole way I see history, power, beauty, truth, language, perspective, my country, and my own existence within my own white skin, in ways I’m still trying to process and will continue to process, I’m sure, for years to come. Ditto the recent and ongoing challenges to our democracy (which have circled me back around to the concept of magical thinking and imagination). Long story short, I’m still very much trying to process the past year. My hope is to be able to write about some of the strangeness and change that we’ve been going through in my current project—which happens to be another bibliomemoir, this time about the life and work of the German Romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann.

We’re looking forward to hearing more from Kim and all of our other Lit Crawl presenters on June 10 in Cambridge!  “The Art of (Writing About) Reading” will take place at 7:00 PM at Dial Restaurant in Cambridge. For more information about Lit Crawl and to register, see the BBF website.

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Rehearsing with Chandreyee Lahiri for Lit Crawl 2021

Storytelling has proven to be a great device for the immigrant experience. Off Kendrick is a theater group in which South Asian immigrants share their realities as minority groups in the United States. In between humorous adventures and retellings of harsh circumstances, Off Kendrick emphasizes the importance of storytelling for the immigrant experience. To elaborate more on this event, we have asked Chandreyee Lahiri, one of the presenters, some questions to learn more about what to expect from Off Kendrick’s presentation titled “Voices” and register now for this event on June 10

BBF: As there will probably be an invitation for the audience to participate in your presentation, how important do you think it is for immigrants to exchange stories between each other? 

Chandreyee: Our show “Voices” is intended for a broad audience of non-immigrants so we can start to break through the social barriers that divide us and stride towards inclusiveness. People tend to fear the unknown and succumb to reductive stereotypes. For non-immigrants to walk in the shoes of immigrants, if only for the duration of their stories, may bridge this chasm. But there is also great value of sharing stories WITHIN the immigrant community. When you arrive in a foreign country, leaving behind your support systems, grappling with new traditions and customs—social and emotional isolation is as common as it is harmful. Finding a community of like people through storytelling can make a big difference to this process of settling in. For immigrants who have “assimilated” over time, sharing stories about their journey of adjustment and struggle can also enrich both the teller and the community. For example, one of the stories in the Lit Crawl event is about a father’s confusing encounter with their Indian-American child’s mis-interpretation of his career, the career required so much effort and sacrifice. Many immigrants related to this story and hopefully, some felt less alone after hearing it.

BBF: Are there any specific audience receptions that you remember fondly from previous performances? 

Chandreyee: The 2018 “Voices” mainstage show was staged in Waltham and among the sold-out audience (on both nights) was the Mayor. For the mainstage shows, our Director allows a few stories to be in a native language and we provide live captions for the audience to follow along. Mayor McCarthy told me that she turned away from it on purpose at times to savor the full experience of Bengali, a new and foreign language to her. She was delighted that by referring to the captions just occasionally, she got the gist of the story but also thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the mannerisms, cadences, and sounds of the teller performing in his own tongue. I was thrilled at this huge step she took, preemptively, to immerse herself into this world. This was a heartening and unexpected example of community.

BBF: Do you think theater is the best expression platform for the immigrant experience? 

Chandreyee: The group that produces “Voices”—the mainstage show as well as the Story Slam series—is in fact a theater group, though Storytelling is not true theater. But yes, having a platform like a live, staged event is very effective in communicating immigrant experiences because of the personal connection it offers. To see the teller’s face, experience their body language, and be in front of a stage primes the audience to truly listen and connect. The Pandemic showed us that virtual shows can also work. Our Mainstage show is usually held in Greater Boston at a theater every other year but the 2020 show, scheduled to occur at the Cambridge Center for Arts, had to be cancelled due to COVID-19. We switched to an online event via Zoom and YouTube to a wonderful reception. We missed the energy and connection of a live event and can’t wait to return to a stage but it showed us that we can reach and touch people’s hearts and minds in many ways.

BBF: Humorous events as well as hardships are definitely present in your work. Do you consider this balance to be essential in your performances? 

Chandreyee: Absolutely. Every curated “Voices” show attempts to present the many facets of immigrant experience, from comic misadventures through poignant struggles. Hidden in the diverse stories are nuggets of truth that can speak volumes, and appealing to a range of emotions helps reach a wide audience. In our “Story Slams,” which are impromptu contests judged by the audience, tellers sign up with 5 minute true stories and we draw names from a hat at random. Since we don’t know what stories will be told, we have less opportunity to ensure that all tones of stories are covered, but interestingly, it works out. The story that won the March “Voices” story slam was pretty funny and the two stories that were in close running were powerful and emotional. 

Be sure to mark your calendar for June 10 and check out “Voices”! You can find out more about Off Kendrick here



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