It’s been ten years since writer Neil Miller in the Boston Globe Magazine shone a spotlight on the Merrimack Valley literary renaissance that was getting noticed at home and far away. The region of Bradstreet, Thoreau, Whittier, Frost, Kerouac, and others has emerged in our time as a literary hotspot. Read the archived article that features Jane Brox, Andre Dubus III, Mary McGarry Morris, Jay Atkinson, Dave Daniel, Chath pierSath, and others. Unfortunately, the archived piece doesn’t include the original photographs of the authors.
All these writers are very different, of course, and it’s hard to find one unifying theme, a single valley sensibility. Brox’s elegiac memoirs and her feeling for place have led her to be dubbed “a latter-day Thoreau.” Until recently, Dubus has been reluctant to write about the Merrimack Valley at all. Still, all are drawn to working-class, sometimes hardscrabble characters, those “practical” types who populate the region. “In the Merrimack Valley, we celebrate the ordinary moment,” says Atkinson. “That is what you write about. There is no uranium mine here.”
The intellectual history of the area reaches back almost to the beginnings of New England’s industrial revolution. In the 1840s, on a trip to America, Charles Dickens paid a visit to Lowell, where he made some unexpected discoveries: Many of the young New England farm women who came to the city to work in the textile mills subscribed to circulating libraries. And some of them were publishing a regular magazine called The Lowell Offering, which he wrote in his book American Notes “will compare advantageously with a great many English Annuals.”