E.B. Bartels

Nonfiction mafia.

Category: Massachusetts

“The Privilege of Old Age” in Entropy Mag

For the full piece, see it on Entropy.
Published on January 13, 2020.

Photograph: © Isa Leshko

For a long time I was a photographer in addition to being a writer. Images and words always went hand-in-hand for me, and I found that often photographs influenced how I thought about writing and that often writing influenced how I thought about photography. While I don’t make images of my own anymore with any regularity, I still love visiting museums and galleries and reading art books, and black and white photographs, especially those made with large format cameras and printed in silver gelatin, are still the ones that always grab at my heart.

I was drawn to Isa Leshko‘s images for these reasons, and because her photos are of animals, which of course makes sense, because I am all about animals. But reading Isa’s book Allowed to Grow Old: Portraits of Elderly Animals from Farm Sanctuaries, published this past spring by University of Chicago Press, was truly a life-changing experience. Her images made me reconsider how we as people think about aging, and how getting old can feel like a burden, but it is actually quite a gift. Many animals — both human and non-human — never make it to their elderly years.

This essay I wrote inspired by Allowed to Grow Old is up now on Entropy MagI hope you read it, and take some time to look at Isa’s images. Her work is transformative.

Wellesley Writes It: Patrice Caldwell

In my first Wellesley Writes It interview of 2020, I emailed with Patrice Caldwell ’15 — literary agent, writer, founder of People of Color in Publishing, and editor of the anthology A Phoenix First Must Burn. Here’s the beginning of the interview:

Patrice Caldwell ’15 is the founder & fundraising chair of People of Color in Publishing – a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting, empowering, and uplifting racially and ethnically marginalized members of the book publishing industry. Born and raised in Texas, Patrice was a children’s book editor before shifting to be a literary agent at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency.

In 2018, she was named a Publishers Weekly Star Watch honoree and featured on The Writer’s Digest podcast and Bustle’s inaugural “Lit List” as one of ten women changing the book world.

Her anthology, A Phoenix First Must Burn – 16 stories of Black girl magic, resistance, and hope – is out March 10, 2020 from Viking Books for Young Readers/Penguin Teen in the US/Canada and Hot Key Books in the UK! Visit Patrice online at patricecaldwell.com, Twitter @whimsicallyours, and Instagram @whimsicalaquarian.

Wellesley Underground’s Wellesley Writes it Series Editor, E.B. Bartels ’10, had the chance to converse with Patrice via email about publishing, reading, and writing. E.B. is grateful to Patrice for willing to be part of the Wellesley Writes It series, even with everything else she has going on!

EB: When did you first become interested in going into writing and publishing? Did something at Wellesley spark that interest?

PC: For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved writing. It’s how I best express myself. That love pretty naturally grew into creating stories. I’ve always had a very vivid imagination. I’ve also always been pretty aware that publishers exist. I remember at a young age noticing the logos on the spines of books (notating the imprint/publisher), so by the time I was a teen I could recall which publishers published my favorite books (served me very well in interviews, haha) and was curious about that process. But I was a theater kid, intensely, that’s what I thought I would do, but then I decided to go to Wellesley and majored in political science (especially theory—I took ever class Professor Grattan, she’s brilliant) but then dabbled in a bunch of other subjects, including English. I think English courses definitely strengthened my critical thinking, but I absolutely do not think you have to be an English or creative writing major in order to work in publishing or be a writer. My theater background is just as helpful as is my political theory one. (I have friends who are best-selling authors who did MFA programs and others who never went to college.)

Wellesley was my safe space. I came back to myself while at Wellesley. I wrote three (unpublished) manuscripts during my time there, starting the summer after my first year, and I held publishing and writing related internships. I also took a fantastic children’s literature course taught by Susan Meyer (who’s a children’s author herself!) that changed my world. I highly recommend it. We studied children’s literature, got to talk to an author and a literary agent, and we wrote our own stories. I later did a creative writing independent study with her, and I truly thank Professor Meyer for expanding my interest in writing and publishing.

EB: How did People in Color Publishing come about? What goals do you have for the organization? What would you like people to know about it?

PC: I founded People of Color in Publishing in August 2016 to allow people of color clearer access into the book publishing industry, better support networks, and professional development opportunities. It really is about sending the elevator back down for others after climbing (& maybe even assembling) the stairs.

We’re currently working towards nonprofit status. You can learn more about us and our initiatives at https://www.pocinpublishing.com/ and sign up for our newsletter, which is incredibly well done. As you’ll see when you visit the site, the organization really is a team effort. I don’t and couldn’t do this alone; I’ve had an amazing team with me from day one. We each play to our strengths and work really well together. (The org is very active on Instagram and Twitter, too!)

EB: I am really excited about your collection A Phoenix First Must Burn, coming out from Penguin Random House on March 10, 2020. What inspired you to put together that anthology? What was challenging about the process of compiling the anthology, and what was rewarding about it?

PC: Thank you; I’m so excited for it as well. I talk about this more in the book’s introduction, but I was inspired by my eternal love for Octavia Butler—the title even comes from a passage in Parable of the Talents—as well as similar adult market anthologies like Sheree R. Thomas’s Dark Matter, and wondering what one for teens would look like. The answer is power and imagination like I’ve never before seen, in the form of a kick-ass, #BlackGirlMagic anthology that’s hella queer—I love it and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Before I became a literary agent, I was a children’s book editor. The editing of these stories was the easy part. It was super fun. The hard part was wrangling of everyone, haha. Thankfully they were amazing to work with and I wasn’t doing it alone—my then editor Kendra Levin also has a fantastic editorial eye.

As for what was rewarding, my younger self needed this. Like I said, it’s Black and queer. Since Toni Morrison passed, a day hasn’t gone by in which I’ve thought, about how she wrote for Black people, especially Black women, unapologetically. I feel that deeply. I got to work with some of my favorite writers writing today. How often does someone get to say that, you know. And, I grew a lot as a writer. I never thought I could write a short story, but I did. We’ve been getting some really great early reviews (like this beautifully-written starred review from Kirkus, OMG!) But going back to how my younger self needed this, the most rewarding thing has been the people who’ve reached out how excited they are to read it and how much they’ve been craving a book like this. It’s a dream come true. A dream I strategized to reach, worked my butt off on, and so yeah, I’m over the moon.

Go to Wellesley Underground for the complete conversation!

Shop small this holiday season!

This past month I’ve been reading a lot about the small businesses closing in and around Harvard Square, such as Black Ink, as outside developers drive up rent to unsustainable rates. Therefore, this month, I’d like to take a moment to remind you all to support small and local businesses as you do your gift shopping this holiday season (F*CK AM*ZON). Some of my favorite places, in addition to Black Ink, for unique and whimsical gifts are Ward MapsNomadJoie de VivreMagpie, and Loyal Supply CoRebekah Brooks is magnificent for vintage jewelry, and I love Raspberry Beret and The Garment District for vintage clothing. For delicious edible gifts, check out Honeycomb Creamery and Curio Spice Co., for all your toy and game needs go to Henry Bear’s ParkComicazi, and Pandemonium, and if you want to paint your own gifts, go to Made By Me.

And, obviously, I am obsessed with independent bookstores. This past month I went to so many fantastic author events, all courtesy of your favorite local bookstores. So please, please, PLEASE consider ordering your book presents (because books make the best presents, right?) this holiday season from your local independent bookstores as opposed to the evil empire (F*CK AM*ZON). Some of my favorite bookstores include:

Please tell me some of your favorite independent bookstores and/or other favorite small businesses in the comments below. And happy holiday shopping!

Feeling thankful for independent bookstores

November has been a kickass month of author events, thanks to several amazing indie bookstores. THIS is the stuff you can’t get from that giant online retailer. THIS is why we need local bookstores!!!

On 11/6, I heard Carmen Maria Machado in conversation with Kelly Link at the Brattle Theatre, discussing Carmen’s new memoir In The Dream House, courtesy of Harvard Book Store.

On 11/8, I laughed with Lindy West about her new book The Witches Are Coming at the First Parish Church in Cambridge, also courtesy of Harvard Book Store.

On 11/18, I listened to Ta-Nehisi Coates talk about his debut novel The Water Dancer with Meghna Chakrabarti at the Chevalier Theatre, courtesy of Brookline Booksmith.

On 11/20, I celebrated Nina MacLaughlin‘s fiction debut Wake, Siren: Ovid Resung at Harvard Book Store.

And on 11/22, I enjoyed Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne and Kelly J. Ford in conversation about Elizabeth’s debut novel Holding On To Nothing at Newtonville Books.

Seriously, what a great month. Thank you to the independent bookstores who made this possible! Remember these places when you start your holiday shopping in the next few weeks.

Writers You Should Know: Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne

Happy publication day to Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne and her beautiful, dark, devastating book, Holding On To Nothing, which is out today from Blair! Everyone go buy a copy and read it right now and I am not just saying that because ECS thanked me in the acknowledgments (my first time ever appearing in book acknowledgments!?!) but that definitely didn’t hurt. 🍾💙✨📚🎉🥃❤️📝💫🖤🍻🥰🍷💚🐕🔫🧡

Congratulations, Elizabeth!

BBF Unbound: Creature Feature!

Come listen to me talk to some brilliant people about what it’s like to write nonfiction about animals at the Boston Book Festival next weekend! On Sunday, October 20, I will be moderating a BBF Unbound panel called Creature Feature from 12pm-1pm in the Roxbury Innovation Center Multipurpose Room (2300 Washington St, Boston, MA 02119). I will be in conversation with Matthew GilbertSangamithra IyerJessie Male, and Grace Talusan, and I am very excited about it!

Five years of living in Cambridge!

This week marks five years that I have been living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. To celebrate, I spent the better part of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday tweeting about some of my favorite things about this city. Click here to see the thread on Twitter or here to see a more-easily-readable version of the thread.

I’d love to hear what some of your favorite Cambridge spots are — leave a comment below or @ me on Twitter!

Mortified: Natick!

Come see me read this Friday 8/30 at 7:00pm in a very special Mortified show at the Morse Institute Library in Natick, Massachusetts. This Mortified show will consist of not only the usual hilarious stories of preteen embarrassment but it will also include a piece about the craft of storytelling. The writing teacher in me is very excited.

Tickets are free! Click here to register.

Non-Fiction by Non-Men: Audrey Murray

For the full interview, see it on Fiction Advocate.
Published on June 28, 2019.

Audrey Murray is a redhead from Boston who moved to China and became a standup comedian. The co-founder of Kung Fu Komedy, Audrey was named the funniest person in Shanghai by City Weekend magazine. Audrey is a staff writer for Reductress.com and a regular contributor at Medium.com; her writing has also appeared in McSweeney’s, LitHubLARBThe GothamistPaste MagazineNarratively, China Economic Review, Nowness, Architizer, and on the wall of her dad’s office. Audrey has appeared on NPR and The Comedy Center: Live from the Table; the Lost in AmericaListen to This!, and Shanghai Comedy Corner podcasts; and on CNN, RTN, and ICS. She recently published her first memoir, Open Mic Night in Moscow. Follow her on Twitter at @ACMwrites.

Wellesley Writes It: Dr. Kwan Kew Lai

In my second interview since I started back editing for Wellesley Underground as their Wellesley Writes It editor, I corresponded with Dr. Kwan Kew Lai, Wellesley ’74 and author of Lest We Forget: One Doctor’s Experience with Life and Death During the Ebola Outbreak.

Here’s the beginning of the interview:


Kwan Kew Lai ’74, M.D., D.M.D., is an infectious disease specialist who has volunteered her medical services all over the world and the author of Lest We Forget: A Doctor’s Experience with Life and Death During the Ebola Outbreak. In 2004, after the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, she spent three weeks in India, caring for survivors. She soon left her position as a full-time Professor of Medicine in Infectious Diseases and Internal Medicine at UMass Memorial Medical Center and created a half-time position as a clinician, dedicating the other half of her time to humanitarian work.

Since 2005, Lai has volunteered as a mentor to health workers addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Vietnam, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria, Malawi and has provided earthquake relief in Haiti and Nepal, hurricane relief in the Philippines and drought and famine relief in Kenya and the Somalian border. She has also worked with refugees of the Democratic Republic of Congo and internally displaced people in Libya during the Arab Spring and South Sudan after the civil war and treated Ebola patients in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Most recently, she served as a medical volunteer in the Syrian refugee camps in mainland Greece and in Moria refugee camp on Lesvos, Greece for refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and the countries of the Sub-Saharan Africa and in the world’s biggest refugee camps for the Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Lai has blogged extensively about her experiences.

Originally from Penang, Malaysia, Lai came to the United States after receiving a scholarship to attend Wellesley, where she studied molecular biology. “Without that open door I would not have gone on to become a doctor,” Lai wrote in her Doctors Without Borders bio

Lai has received numerous awards for her work, which include being a three-time recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award. In 2017, she was awarded Wellesley College Alumnae Achievement Award. In addition, Lai is the lead author of many publications and presentations. Her research has included HIV studies, infection control, hospital epidemiology, and antibiotic trials. She has served on many committees, task forces, and boards, including the Governor’s Advisory Board for the Elimination of Tuberculosis in Massachusetts. She is also an avid marathon runner and paints when she is inspired.

Wellesley Underground’s Wellesley Writes it Series Editor, E.B. Bartels ’10, had the chance to converse with Lai via email about Lest We Forget and about her experiences at Wellesley and beyond. E.B. would also like to make note that Lai made time to answer these questions even while busy with her 45th Wellesley Reunion! 


EB: How did Lest We Forget come about? What inspired you to write the book?

KKL: I first became aware of the Ebola outbreak in March of 2014, I began to follow it very closely. I read about Ebola when I was in my training as an infectious disease specialist. It is a deadly viral infection but it usually occurs in Africa and I knew that it would be unlikely for me to see a patient with this infection. In the summer of 2014 when WHO finally acknowledged the seriousness of the situation, the nightly TV images of people desperate to get into a hospital and bodies lying in the streets because they were too infectious to be touched, moved me. I knew I had to be in West Africa to volunteer.

I started blogging a few years ago when I went to volunteer to enable my family and close friends to keep abreast of my situation and so I did the same when I started volunteering in the Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU). Deeper into my volunteering I was very moved by the courage and resilience of the patients and the dedication and dogged determination of the people who worked alongside me and who risked their lives working in the frontline. After my first stint in West Africa, I was interviewed by NPR international health correspondent, Nurith Aizenman, about my experience and she had urged me to write a book. I had thought about that as well before she brought it up but I was too taken up into my second stint of Ebola volunteer by then. When I was in Sierra Leone doing my second Ebola volunteering, I was also contacted by an agency who wanted to represent me with either writing a book or making a documentary. However just before I left for Sierra Leone, I signed with my first agent about my book on Africa which is about my experiences as a volunteered doctor in HIV/AIDS and my work in the refugee camps. I did not feel it was ethically right to deal with another agency. Nevertheless, writing a book about Ebola became more urgent, I wanted to write this in honor and memory of the people afflicted by Ebola and the frontline bola fighters who put their lives on the line. It took me awhile for me to convince my agent to present my book on Ebola first before my book on Africa.

Go to Wellesley Underground for the complete conversation!



Together hiking the Appalachian Trail from April to October, 2015!

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