new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

Graphic novel’s battle between high, low art; celebrating youth writing and 826 Boston

An illustration by Karl Stevens from his latest graphic novel “The Winner.”

Artwork that is a ‘Winner’

Karl Stevens draws comics; his crosshatch work is stunning. Karl Stevens makes oil paintings; his portraits bring Andrew Wyeth’s to mind. Karl Stevens writes graphic novels; they blend and blur high art and low.

The result is a singular visual and storytelling experience, and no more so the case than his latest graphic novel, The Winner’’ (Retrofit), out this week, which grapples with the divide between what’s on the walls in the museum and what’s on the page of Marvel’s latest issue.

To move through these pages is to be, in one moment, on the beach in Provincetown, on a summer hike in the mountains, on the couch watching “Jeopardy,’’ in realms with an alcoholic blue-robed wizard, a ridable rabbit, portals to other dimensions, and a werewolf soldier with PTSD.


Stevens, born in Concord and living in Boston, gnaws on what sort of artist he wants to be, explores sobriety, and celebrates the love he shares with his wife, with interludes that take place in environments completely alien.

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A show of Stevens’s work from “The Winner’’ will open on June 1 at the Carroll and Sons Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave. in Boston.

826 Boston celebrates 10 years

826 Boston, the youth writing organization, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and on May 23 at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge, they’ll hold a Night of 1,000 Stories as a way to honor a decade of bringing programs to young people in Boston. Writer and 826 founder Dave Eggers will be in conversation with 826 Boston’s Slam Poetry team from the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science. The organization has also just released a new book written by immigrant student writers. “Like the Sun in Dark Spaces: Narratives Across Generations and Continents’’ gathers stories from over 70 12th-graders at the Boston International Newcomers Academy. The students, from Albania, Cape Verde, El Salvador, Somalia, Kenya, Vietnam, Portugal, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Senegal, and elsewhere, write stories of the places where they come from, their parents, aunts and uncles, others who’ve helped shape who they are and who they’ll become. Tickets start at $175 and more information can be found at

Stitching a story together

In the process of studying pieces from a textile collection, Concord native Rachel May came across an unfinished quilt from the 1830s that spurred an exploration of the lives of four enslaved women, the couple who owned them, and the relationship between North and South. An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery’’ (Pegasus), which includes a number of images and a full-color insert, examines the complicity of the North, wrestles with present-day racism, and is a sensitive, thoughtful, and probing look at what’s left to be found when more of the covers are pulled off the history of American slavery. May will discuss the book Wednesday, May 23 at 7:30 pm at the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford. Admission is $10 (free for members). For more information visit

Coming out

Of Marriage’’by Nicole Cooley (Alice James)


There There’’ by Tommy Orange (Knopf)

Posthomerica’’ by Quintus Smyrnaeus, translated from the Greek by Neil Hopkinson (Harvard)

Pick of the week

Josh Cook at Porter Square Books in Cambridge recommends Red, Yellow, Green’’ by Alejandro Saravia, translated from the Spanish by Maria Jose Gimenez (Biblioasis): “Traumatized by crimes he participated in as a soldier in Bolivia, Alfredo hears voices. He tries to write his story. He tries to fall in love again. Not only is this a striking exploration of what a trauma survivor’s thoughts might look like, Sarvaria uses a shattered narrative style to interrogate the idea of nationality and identity. A powerful mess of a novel.”

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Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at