Authors Flock To Boston
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
Last year, The Boston Globe ran a feature on weddings in the Boston Public Library. It probably says a lot about me (English major with four engaged cousins) that I thought this was the sweetest idea, and the photos along with the article were incredibly beautiful—a modern Beauty and the Beast moment.
But this year, Boston is really a bibliophile haven, outside the walls of the BPL and across the river.
First off, writers in the city had a really amazing representation in the 2012 edition of the Best American Short Stories. The compilation was not only guest-edited by Boston’s own Tom Perrotta (he did not make final decisions about the content, however, so there was no favoritism for local writers), but also showcased Nathan Englander’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,” Taylor Antrim’s “Pilgrim Life,” Carol Anshaw’s “The Last Speaker of the Language,” Jennifer Haigh’s “Paramour,” and Edith Pearlman’s “Honeydew.” Keep in mind that all the stories in this compilation are found by the editors—no one applies. So all of these authors deserve extra props for being recognized without seeking out the attention.
I’d like to say it’s the gorgeous views of Boston, the crisp fall weather that we have right now, or caffeine from Dunkin’ Donuts that inspires these literati, but it is more likely that like breeds like. In this case, the plethora of colleges and universities has drawn in scores of talented writer-professors, such as Elie Wiesel at Boston University (of which I am still infinitely jealous). Writers now recognize Boston as a city where they can come for a steady job to support their creative whims and make the uncertainty of publishing a more feasible profession.
Junot Diaz is one of the most recent additions to this field, having lately taken up a post as a creative writing professor at MIT. When he came to Boston College last year, I was so struck by his lecture—Diaz is perhaps the only person who can swear profusely in a sentence that also uses words that 95 percent of the world would never drop in casual conversation. His presence is energetic and intelligent, matching the vivacity of his writing.
At BC, Diaz mostly discussed his first novel, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and in September he published his first book since then, a series of short stories connected to a main character of Oscar Wao, titled This Is How You Lose Her. For some perspective on the enormity of this event, this is his third book ever. He first published Drown—another series of short stories—in 1996, then released Oscar Wao in 2007.
Even with so few publications over such a long period of time, Diaz is not easily forgotten by those who read his work and meet him in person. His dedication to writing quality over quantity is part of what won him a MacArthur Fellowship for 2012. This fellowship is nicknamed the “Genius Grant” and is worth $500,000 (doled out over five years) for those who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.” So, basically, Diaz is one of 20 people who was anonymously nominated for the prize and was eventually deemed to have such amazing potential that he gets half a million dollars without the promise of producing anything. This is unprecedented in our society, where the product is more important than the process—but like Best American Short Stories, it is so critical to preserving the process of creativity that authors not feel pressured to write because they want to win something.
Those are the kinds of writers Boston is attracting, and those are the stories that we want filling up the gorgeous halls of the BPL, coming to Brookline Booksmith, and moving into our universities. Now we just have to figure out a way to steal Diaz away from the math and science vortex across the river in time for my senior year.