The 11 biggest happenings of 2018 in Baltimore’s literary scene

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Photo by Corey Jennings.

It’s been a busy year for Baltimore’s writers and literary institutions. Here are some of the most interesting developments and gossipy tidbits.

New ownership for The Ivy Bookshop

The Ivy Bookshop, the leading independent bookstore in Baltimore, is transferring ownership. Emma Snyder, who’s been a partner in the store since 2017, will purchase the business this Monday, Dec. 31, from Ed and Ann Berlin, who’ve run it since 2012. Ed Berlin, soon to celebrate his 70th birthday, is retiring to work on personal and philanthropic projects; Ann’s plans have not been made public.

Though the store will undoubtedly continue to be the city’s premier venue for touring authors, as well as a sponsor of literary projects ranging from the Baltimore Book Festival to WYPR’s “Weekly Reader,” there could be changes afoot.

Snyder has an undergraduate degree from Yale and an MFA in fiction, and came to the Ivy after directing the Pen Faulkner Foundation. She was instrumental the opening of Bird in Hand, the Ivy’s collaboration with Spike Gjerde, where artisanal coffee and scones are on offer with books.

Members of the Red Emma’s collective pose outside their future home at 1225 Cathedral St. Photo via the Red Emma’s Facebook.

A big move for Red Emma’s/A new indie bookstore for Fells Point

Baltimore supports several other independent booksellers and the year has seen changes on that list as well. In June, Red Emma’s, the left-wing bookstore owned by a worker’s cooperative, moved from North Avenue to a bigger location at 1225 Cathedral
St., next to the Theater Project. They now have twice as many books, seated vegetarian and vegan dining, and a bar.

And in March, Fells Point got a bookstore, Greedy Reads at 1744 Aliceanna St., owned by Julia Fleischaker. She is a local who returns to Baltimore after a stint in the publishing industry in Manhattan. This store definitely adds intellectual possibilities to the usual pub-crawling itinerary.

A big year for D. Watkins

Memoirist and University of Baltimore MFA alum D. Watkins, who came to national prominence during the 2015 uprising and has since published two bestselling memoirs,
spent part of 2018 working on “Charm City,” a film by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith to be released in 2019.

Baltimore on Broadway

There is still time to see “Head Over Heels,” the Broadway show by Baltimore’s own James Magruder, which opened in July and closes on Jan. 6 after 188 performances. This colorful, of-the-moment musical farce was the first on Broadway to cast a trans person in a principal role. One enthusiastic reviewer called it “Trump’s Biggest Nightmare Come to Life on Stage.”

The playwright is also a fiction writer and is currently on deadline with a chronicle of the first 50 years of the Yale Repertory Theatre.

Gun Trace Task Force members (top row L-R) Thomas Allers, Momudo Gondo, Maurice Ward and Marcus Taylor, and (bottom row L-R) Jemell Rayam, Evodio Hendrix, Daniel Hersl and Wayne Jenkins. Images via the Baltimore Police Department.

A “Monster” deal

City Paper veterans Brandon Soderberg and Baynard Woods signed a contract with St. Martin’s for “I’ve Got a Monster,” a narrative nonfiction about the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force, possibly the country’s most corrupt police unit. The eight Baltimore cops indicted in the case were convicted of racketeering, robbery, overtime fraud, falsification of records and misconduct. “Monster” was the term they would say when Sgt. Wayne Jenkins “found a big drug dealer he wanted to rob.” There’s reportedly a movie in process as well.

CityLit makes moves

Under the leadership of Carla Du Pree, CityLit champions literary diversity at every level. In 2018, that involved everything from bringing Tayari Jones (“An American Marriage”) and Elizabeth Acevedo (“Poet X”) to town to partnering with One Book Baltimore to put “Dear Martin,” a prize-winning work about a black boy and the police, in the hands of every 7th and 8th grader in Baltimore public schools. Earlier this year, CityLit moved into the Motor House, a gallery, performance space, cafe and bar at 120 W. North Ave., adding a literary touch to the Station North Arts and Entertainment scene.

Local writing professors get shine

2018 brought coveted coverage to several of Baltimore’s university writing faculty. As rare as it is for a book of poems to be reviewed in The New York Times, Elizabeth Spires of Goucher’s “A Memory of the Future” was hailed in glowing terms by that paper upon its release; a few months later, one of the poems was reprinted in The New York Times Magazine. Also praised by the Times was UB’s Jane Delury for her debut novel “The Balcony”; her colleague Marion Winik (full disclosure: me) saw “The Baltimore Book of the Dead” selected by Oprah.com. UB MFA graduate Anthony Moll won a national contest resulting in publication of his LGBTQ memoir “Out of Step” by The Ohio State University, the story of a “pink-haired queer” in the U.S. Army.

Lippman branches out

Mystery novelist Laura Lippman released her first children’s book this fall, “Liza Jane and the Dragon,” said to have been inspired by conversations with her daughter about Donald Trump. Lippman is so beloved in this city that the reveal of the plot of her next
novel made headlines in The Sun. At an appearance at the Church of the
Redeemer in November, the Edgar winner read the previously top-secret first chapter of her 2019 release, “Lady in the Lake,” based on a 1969 cold case involving a woman who drowned in the fountain in Druid Lake. The novel’s real-life characters include Baltimore’s first African-American police officer and an outfielder for the Orioles.

A TV show for Jessica Anya Blau

Very big news for local author Jessica Anya Blau. ABC has put in development “The Sorority Girl Who Saved Your Life,” a drama about a sorority girl who joined the CIA, produced by Ellen Pompeo (much-adored star of “Grey’s Anatomy”) and others. The show is inspired by a forthcoming memoir from St. Martin’s Press that details the true story of Tracy Walder, a University of Southern California student and Delta Gamma sorority sister who happened upon a CIA recruiter at a jobs fair and ended up as a counterterrorism agent in black ops. The book is a collaboration between Walder and Blau; both are consultants on the TV project.

Big news for small press

The PEN American Center has recognized a title from Baltimore-based Mason Jar Press, founded in 2015 by two UB MFA alums, Ian Anderson and Michael Tager. The book is “How to Sit: A Memoir in Stories and Essays,” published in October by Tyrese Coleman. It has made the long list for the 2018 Open Book Prize, a $5,000 award that goes to an exceptional book-length work of any genre by an author of color, published in 2018 in the United States. This is a huge honor for both the author and the press, which is by far the smallest on a list that includes titles from Knopf, Penguin and Graywolf. The short list is announced in January of 2019 and the ultimate winner in February.

Fireflies, pedicabs curated by Lance M. Fung, wait for riders.

Light City and Book Festival merge

Here’s something else to look forward to in the coming year. The Baltimore Book Festival has merged with Baltimore Light City and is moving to November. This 10-day “mega festival” will feature literary readings and presentations during the day and sparkly installations at night. Official festival name is still TBA. Who knows? It sounds crazy, it will definitely be one of a kind, but it could work. This is Baltimore, after all.

Marion Winik

University of Baltimore Professor Marion Winik writes Bohemian Rhapsody on the first Wednesday of the month. She is the author of "The Baltimore Book of the Dead,” “First Comes Love,” and several other books, and the host of The Weekly Reader on WYPR. Sign up for her monthly email at marionwinik.com.
Marion Winik


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1 COMMENT

  1. Thanks for this roundup, Marion! I love hearing all the good news about the good people of Baltimore. I think I should change my last name to Blua (as it’s printed here). It’s much more melodic! xx

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