Tag Archives: Boston Public Library

What goes around, comes around!

Last night at the Boston Public Library, After Emily was among the books honored by the Boston Authors Club (BAC). To be recognized by your peers – in this case, writers – is an incredibly humbling experience. But for me there was an additional layer of joy to the event, because the Boston Authors Club came into existence in part because of the efforts of Mabel Loomis Todd.

I tried to reflect this in the remarks I made:

Thanks to my colleagues on the BAC, and especially to the reading group for non-fiction, who had the very wonderful and very formidable task of reading through so many worthy books this past year. Congratulations to Alexander Bevilacqua, Eric Dolan and Simon Winchester. I am honored that my book was considered alongside all of yours.

I want to tell you all, briefly, one other reason that I am so pleased to have After Emily honored by the Boston Authors Club.

In the very late years of the 19th century, Mabel Loomis Todd hosted author May Alden Ward and Boston newspaperwoman Helen Winslow at a tea in her home in Amherst. One of the topics of discussion that day were the attempts of a group of literary minded men in Boston to form a new club of authors. The men, including such notables as Thomas Wentworth Higginson, William Dean Howells and Thomas Bailey Aldrich, had foundered in their efforts. Mabel, who among her other virtues, was an incessant and successful organizer, suggested to her women friends that perhaps if WOMEN banded together they might get the incipient BAC off the ground. They agreed, and reached out to Julia Ward Howe. Julia reportedly said, “Go ahead. Call some people together here at my house. We will form a club and it will be a good one too.”

And it was. Unlike other similar literary organizations of the era, the Boston Authors Club was started as a club that admitted both women and men.

I don’t know this for sure, but I believe that the BAC rule that any member must live within a radius of 90 miles from Boston is no coincidence, since when you clock the mileage to Amherst, it’s – you guessed it – about 90 miles!

And so, here we are, 120 years later, in part because of one of the subjects of my book.  Mabel, I’m sure, would be thrilled that a book about her is being honored by the BAC. And so am I. Thank you!


When you walk into the Boston Public Library you’re immediately drawn back into the world of another era. The dramatic entry staircase, high painted ceilings, arches and the iconic stone lions that flank it transport you to another century. And that’s what the BAC does, as well:  it links people who write and people who love books across time.

I know that Mabel and Millicent – and probably even Emily – would love that a book about their lives and work was recognized by an organization that spans time by recognizing literature the way the BAC does.


To read more about the BAC and Mabel’s role in forming it, you can look back on one of my previous posts. To learn more about the BAC, read an article I wrote about it in the Boston Globe Magazine.

Mabel and the Boston Authors Club


This week the Boston Authors Club (BAC) will hold its annual awards ceremony at the Boston Public Library. I’m thrilled to be on the board of this organization, which honors writers with Boston-area ties and puts on other events of interest to the literary community. But I’m also thrilled to be a part of it because it was an organization that Mabel Loomis Todd helped to form.

In 1899, Mabel hosted a tea at her home in Amherst. Her guests that day were May Alden Ward, a celebrated author and lecturer visiting from Cambridge, and Helen Winslow, one of Boston’s first newspaperwomen. During their time together, the women discussed beginning a Boston Authors Club. This idea of convening authors and those with literary aspirations had precedent in other cities, like New York, but in those days, membership was limited to men. The idea Mabel floated with her guests was to make a more inclusive club that would include both men and women – a radical notion, but one that others quickly embraced.

One of those enthusiastic about the idea was Julia Ward Howe, famous for writing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” “Go ahead,” she stated to her female compatriots. “Call some people together here at my house. We will form a club and it will be a good one too.” The group held its first meeting in January 1900 in Julia’s Beacon Street home.

Julia Ward Howe

Membership for the BAC is limited to authors who live within a 100- mile radius of Boston. This is probably not a coincidence: Mabel, one of its founders, lived 90 miles from Boston.

Mabel was an active member of the BAC until 1917, when she moved to Florida. But even after that, she maintained a “non-resident” membership for years. The annual reports of the BAC and correspondence with many of its members can still be found among her voluminous papers at Yale.

Mabel and Julia Ward Howe became good friends and maintained a lively correspondence for years (Julia addressed her letters to Mabel with the greeting “ My dearest Toddkin.”) When Julia died in 1910, Mabel wrote in her diary, “Dear Julia Ward Howe died yesterday and I am grieved to the heart.” She wrote a lengthy and moving tribute to her friend that was read at a BAC meeting.

So when I go the BAC awards this week, part of me will be very much present in the present as we honor some excellent books from 2017. But part of me will be thinking back to the days when Mabel worked to begin this organization, and think of what she might think were she to come to one of our meetings, today.


You can read more about the history of the BAC in an article I wrote for the Boston Globe Magazine, and learn more about the BAC on its website: http://bostonauthorsclub.org/about-1/