I was about to call for an Uber to take me downtown Tuesday when I looked at my watch and thought: Take the T. I was going to the State House to collect a nice award for “The Race Underground” from the Massachusetts Center for the Book, as one of its Non-Fiction Books of the Year (I was not the category’s big winner, that went to Elizabeth Kolbert for “Sixth Extinction).
So I walked up to the JFK/UMass station and took the Red Line to Park Street, which, of course, was the second station that the first subway in America stopped at on September 1, 1897, after first passing through the Boylston Street station. Park Street was also where a Boston Globe reporter stood in the early 1890s to count the street traffic as part of the subway debate. It was, needless to say, very congested. This is what I wrote about that moment: A reporter for the Globe went out one afternoon, stood at the busy downtown corner of Park Street and Tremont Street in front of the towering, white Park Street Church and counted 303 streetcars passing by in a single hour, or five every minute. A “mile an hour pace” is how the paper described the scene.
Insert joke here about how much it’s changed now that those streetcars are underground.
That corner is also a historic spot for another reason. The same construction engineer, Solomon Willard, who built the Bunker Hill Monument oversaw the look of the Park Street Church in 1809. And it’s where “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” was first sung in public and where William Lloyd Garrison spoke out against slavery for the first time.
Okay, history lesson over. Back to the awards.
It was a really terrific ceremony, in a beautiful part of the State House, what’s called Nurse’s Hall, beneath the golden dome. There were about 30 authors there, from categories like non-fiction, fiction, poetry, children’s and young adult. And all of us got certificates like these, really nice, signed by our legislators. And some of the local lawmakers even came and honored their local winners, like Sonia Chang-Diaz from Jamaica Plain (below, right).
Below left was a fellow author I sat with and had a terrific chat with, Katherine Howe. She’s from Marblehead, and wrote what sounds like a terrific young adult novel called “Conversion,” about a present-day North Shore private school and a mysterious illness that brings back memories of Salem and witches. Katherine and I took the pictures of each other getting our awards.
All of the writers got a moment to speak and just thank the Mass Center for the Book for organizing the event and luncheon. I said a few words about the vital importance of libraries in our communities, for research, but also just for our kids, to constantly encourage them to browse the stacks and get lost in their imagination.
I did not do any T-bashing, tempting as it may have been. It’s hard to believe that two years after “The Race Underground” was published in hardcover and a year after the paperback that these moments are still happening for me. But I’m not complaining.