Friday, June 27, 2014

Parting Words from Somerville writer Nora Piehl...

Norah Piehl--Director of Communications and Development for the Boston Book Festival

Parting Words from Somerville writer Nora Piehl

Interview with Doug Holder

Well I am sad to report Somerville is losing a talented member of its literary community.  Nora Piehl is reluctantly leaving town and moving to the suburbs with her young family. But I nabbed her for questioning before she departs these fertile grounds.

 Piehl is the Director of Communications and Development for the Boston Book Festival. A former children's bookseller, Norah has also worked in the publishing industry for both university and trade publishers. She is an active writer whose essays, interviews and reviews have been published in Publishers Weekly, The Horn Book, Brain, Child, Skirt! magazine, National Public Radio, and many other publications, as well as in several print anthologies. Her short fiction has appeared in Literary MamaThe Linnet's WingsThe LegendaryPrinter's Devil Review, and the anthology Battle Runes: Writings on War.

Tell me about how you got involved with the Book Festival and bit of its history?

The Boston Book Festival is now in its sixth year. It was established in 2009 after our founding director, Deborah Porter, noticed that Boston was virtually the only major city in the world without a book festival. That first year, the organizers were expecting between three and five thousand people, and they got nearly twelve thousand attendees! Clearly the demand for this kind of programming was there, and we've continued to grow and expand ever since.

I started at the festival in 2011. I had worked in book publishing for a number of years and had also developed some experience in arts administration through some volunteer work I'd been doing. At the time, I was freelancing and not really looking for a full-time job, but when this opportunity presented itself, it seemed too perfect to turn down. It's such a small nonprofit (we have 2.5 employees) that I get to do a little bit of everything, and the job is anything but predictable or dull.

Can you tell me about the highlights of this year's festival?

This year we're featuring five keynote presenters. We're starting off on Thursday, October 23, with a great kickoff session featuring Herbie Hancock in conversation with Berklee president Roger Brown. Herbie has a memoir coming out in early November. On Friday the 24th Susan Minot, whose most recent novel is Thirty Girls, will be in conversation with young African journalist Dayo Olopade. And on Saturday the 25th we have three featured presenters: kids' keynote Rick Riordan (author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series), noted architect Lord Norman Foster, and presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. I don't know if it's a highlight exactly, but one thing people will definitely notice this year is that, due to construction at the Boston Public Library, we're unable to use any of their venues for programming. Instead, we're stepping outside of our Copley Square footprint to use venues all over Back Bay.

How about your own background as a writer...what are your ambitions?

Lately I've mainly been publishing book reviews, so my biggest ambitions are to meet my deadlines most of the time! Seriously, though, I've recently stepped back from my volunteer arts administration position (see above), so I'm hoping to dedicate some of that newly-liberated free time toward writing--I've been kicking around a few essay ideas, particularly related to issues of parenthood and place, both of which are much on my mind lately.

How was your stay in Somerville? You said you love the city--tell me why.

I've lived in Somerville for the past four years. After living previously in some other Boston suburbs that will remain nameless, I was eager to be back in a real city, and to live on this side of the Charles for the first time. I've really come to treasure the people I've met and befriended while I've lived here, through my professional interactions, personal relationships, and activities like a writers' group I've attended periodically. I like that the neighbors on my street include educators, tradespeople, activists, musicians, and plenty of other "creative types." It's a great mix of long-time residents and newcomers--lots of families and kids, too. And I love being able to walk to everything, not just to my office in Harvard Square but also to the farmers' markets in Union or at the Armory, to my favorite restaurants and coffee shops, to the bookstore in Porter, to the cinema in Davis, etc., etc. 

Any great anecdotes that you can recall that you experienced during the Festival?

Some of my favorite anecdotes actually happen right after the Festival, when I can see and hear what it meant to people. I remember the first year I was involved, in 2011, I was completely wiped out at the end of the Festival day--and starving, too. My boyfriend (now my husband) and I landed at the S&S in Inman. While I devoured a sandwich, I overheard a group of people at the next booth in vigorous discussion and debate--about one of the sessions they had just attended at the BBF! It really reminded me, even through my exhaustion, why the Festival is so important. It brings people together around great books and can start conversations that extend far beyond a single day.

 Tell me about the BBF Unbound program that has been a great success at the Festival.

Yes, this has been a really great program for us. BBF Unbound started in 2012 with two sessions that were proposed to us by community groups. Both of those sessions--one on prison book and writing programs and one on writing by recent veterans--surpassed our expectations for quality and for attendee interest. So in 2013 we expanded the program to include several sessions all day, on everything from a survey of multicultural books for kids to an analysis of how the story of the Boston Marathon bombings was told in words and pictures. We love providing a way for individuals and groups to have a real voice at the Festival, and we're constantly surprised and delighted by the new topics people propose to us, most of which would never have occurred to us to develop on our own! We're accepting submissions for this year's program through July 15. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Miranda Aisling: Portrait of an Artist as an Idea Machine.

Miranda Aisling

Miranda Aisling: Portrait of an Artist as an Idea Machine.

By Doug Holder

  On Miranda Aisling’s website she describes herself as an “idea machine.” And indeed, Aisling is chock-full of ideas for different creative projects. Aisling, who lives on the Somerville/Arlington line, loves the area. She said: “I love all the artists, and young creative people that are running art-based businesses.” Aisling, who holds an advanced degree in Community Arts from Lesley University, has recently written a book “Don’t Make Art, Make Something.” In a nutshell the book deals with the creative block most people encounter in their lives. Aisling said: “Once people create, just the act of creating opens things up. I want people to recognize their creativity. Not everyone is going to be an accomplished artist but everyone has their own degree of creativity.”

  Aisling told me she is very interested in creating with groups.  She feels group work in the arts strengthens the community at large. With this in mind Aisling is hoping to create an art hotel. The hotel, which does not have a set location as of yet, will be a place that will be appointed with furniture, paintings, and other trappings made by artists. Guests could conceivably buy art in the rooms if they are so inclined.

 Currently Aisling heads a collective of artists called “Miranda’s Hearth.” She hopes that this group will develop a physical hotel at some point. Currently her group hosts monthly dinners with artists of all stripes, often at the Democracy Center in Harvard Square.

Aisling, who is a classically trained pianist and singer songwriter, pays her bills by working as an office manager at the Umbrella Community Arts Center in Concord, Mass. She has worked as a teacher at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and traveled to El Salvador where she worked on producing a mural in a rural town with a fellow artist.

Aisling tells me she likes to go to the open mic nights at the Bloc 11 CafĂ© in Union Square, and other venues that our city has to offer. To find out more about Aisling go to:

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Pattern of Life by Walter McGough New Repertory Theatre

Pattern of Life
 by Walt McGough
New Repertory Theatre and
Boston Center for American Performance

Reviewed by Lawrence Kessenich

There are just six performances left of Pattern of Life—all happening this week, from Wednesday June 25 through Sunday, June 29—but if you can get to one of them, go! You will be rewarded with a powerful and thought-provoking dramatic experience. Tickets are available at

There are just two characters in the play, Rahmat, a Pashtun villager in Pakistan, played by Nael Nacer, and Carlo, an American serviceman who helps guide “drones” to their targets in Pakistan, played by Lewis D. Wheeler. Both characters address the audience passionately throughout the play, only directly interacting with one another in two well-modulated dream sequences, though they occasionally “see” each other in other ways. Being directly addressed consistently gives the play an immediacy for the audience that makes it hard to look away.

Nacer is one of my favorite actors in Boston, equally capable of being terribly menacing and deeply vulnerable, though the menacing demeanor only makes brief appearances in this play. Wheeler portrays Carlo as a “regular guy” who just does his job and believably shows the transition to a man confused by things he’s never had to think about before.

As you might imagine, it is to Rahmat’s village that Carlo guides his drones—or Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), as he insists they must be called. Something happens in the initial attack that profoundly shakes both Rahmat’s and Carlo’s worlds, even though those worlds are thousands of miles apart—because the RPA is guided to its target from an Air Force trailer in the Southwest U.S.

Up until this event occurs, Rahmat has stayed clear of the radicals who visit his village, and who burned down the school where he taught, while his brother Atsak gets more deeply involved with them. Rahmat only remains in the village for the sake of Atsak and Atsak’s son, Rahmat’s nephew, Marjan. He would rather go “down the road” to a town where there are jobs and hope. But the results of the drone attack change all that, and Rahmat is adopted by the radicals as an example of why the people of the village must fight back. Ultimately, being in this position forces Rahmat to confront his life and discover what is truly meaningful to him.

Carlo, who has managed to not only rationalize his work with guiding RPAs, but to take pride in what that work has done to protect his fellow servicemen, is suddenly forced to face the sometimes evil consequences of his work. Not being a psychologically oriented man, he is thrown completely off balance by this experience and acts out in ways that only cause him more trouble. Vanessa, his partner in the RPA work, pregnant with her second child, who he had previously dismissed as cold and disinterested, turns out to the one who helps him begin to work through what has happened.

Both Nacer and Wheeler portray their characters with absolute conviction and make them psychologically true. It doesn’t hurt that author Walter McGough has given them great material to work with. You can’t help caring for both of these men, nor can you avoid being appalled by the brutal nature of a war conducted by remote control. McGough raises issues that are as fresh as today’s headlines and as old as the human race. It’s not every day that you have the privilege of seeing a play that manages to do both of these things effectively. Take advantage of this opportunity.

How Many Edens Janice Silverman Rebibo

How Many Edens

Janice Silverman Rebibo

Coolidge Corner Publishing

Copyright © 2014 by Janice Silverman Rebibo

19 pages, softbound, no price given

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Janice Silverman Rebibo is at it again, a sexy, sweaty, serious set of poems that once you start the seventeen pages of poems will not stop until you are finished. Then you will read it again. You cannot help keeping yourself from it. In the opening “Longing And Loathing,” the opening poem, she gets right to it, letting you know where she is headed.

We were in my Garden of Eden
When he said the sweetest thing
Naked on my dayglo white
King-sized bed
At the edge of my tiny meadow
Where the grass had gone all to seed
In the shade of the knowledge trees.
Biblically dappled sunlight
Graced his loins, I mean,
Made his skin look awfully
to me.
“This is not new,” is what he said,
“and I don’t think you should be
Zen about anything.”

Here is a poem that makes you wish you were there. Even if it does not, there is more to

Semi-formal in the grove,
they spoke in strong verbs
and melodious parts of speech.
Depending on the day,
she was his rib,
he had her back
to back to back.
Simplistically, they took
their shape from oak leaves,
their favorite flavor was tomato –
that amorous, bulbous fruit,
there were no surprises even then.

A Massachusetts native and native English speaker, Rebibo received a President of Israel award among other awards for her book of Hebrew poetry written while living in Israel. She is equally at home in both languages providing insightful and intimate poetry that smokes with liveliness.

A three part poem, “Why The Man Was Driven Out” is a particularly revealing poem which should be read slowly and thoughtfully to absorb the full impact of what the author is telling us about herself, and romance/love.

The reader need decide what whether each poem is a happy or sad encounter, but whatever the finding, the final poem “Your Next Eden” speaks directly to the reader and tells you what Rebibo, Eden and her encounters are all about.

A highly recommended chapbook of personal and entertaining poetry that is totally

accessible to every reader.


Reviewer for Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene

Publisher, Muddy River Books

Author, King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Street Press, 2010)

Author, Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 2011)

Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7

Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 8