October 19, 2021

George Howe Colt, Paul Elie, Megan Marshall, Michelle Nijhuis, and Stacey Vanek Smith

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series and Mass Humanities welcome acclaimed writers GEORGE HOWE COLT, PAUL ELIE, MEGAN MARSHALL, MICHELLE NIJHUIS, and STACEY VANEK SMITH for a discussion of their work featured in the anthology Now Comes Good Sailing: Writers Reflect on Henry David Thoreau. Their conversation will be moderated by ANDREW BLAUNER, editor of the anthology.


The world is never done catching up with Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), the author of Walden, “Civil Disobedience,” and other classics. A prophet of environmentalism and vegetarianism, an abolitionist, and a critic of materialism and technology, Thoreau even seems to have anticipated a world of social distancing in his famous experiment at Walden Pond. In Now Comes Good Sailing, twenty-seven of today’s leading writers offer wide-ranging original pieces exploring how Thoreau has influenced and inspired them—and why he matters more than ever in an age of climate, racial, and technological reckoning.

Here, Lauren Groff retreats from the COVID-19 pandemic to a rural house and writing hut, where, unable to write, she rereads Walden; Pico Iyer describes how Thoreau provided him with an unlikely guidebook to Japan; Gerald Early examines Walden and the Black quest for nature; Rafia Zakaria reflects on solitude, from Thoreau’s Concord to her native Pakistan; Mona Simpson follows in Thoreau’s footsteps at Maine’s Mount Katahdin; Jennifer Finney Boylan reads Thoreau in relation to her experience of coming out as a trans woman; Adam Gopnik traces Thoreau’s influence on the New Yorker editor E. B. White and his book Charlotte’s Web; and there’s much more.

The result is a lively and compelling collection that richly demonstrates the countless ways Thoreau continues to move, challenge, and provoke readers today.

About Author(s)

Andrew Blauner is a literary agent and the editor of seven previous anthologies, including Coach: 25 Writers Reflect on People Who Made a DifferenceThe Peanuts Papers: Writers and Cartoonists on Charlie Brown, Snoopy & the Gang, and the Meaning of Life, and In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs.

George Howe Colt has written four books, including The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home, which was a finalist for the 2003 National Book Award in nonfiction. He wrote about John Thoreau’s death and its effect on his younger brother, Henry, in Brothers, winner of the 2013 Massachusetts Book Award for nonfiction. He has taught at Smith College and was for many years a staff writer at Life magazine. He lives in Western Massachusetts with his wife, Anne Fadiman.

Megan Marshall is the author of three biographies, The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism, the winner of the Francis Parkman Prize, the Mark Lynton History Prize, the Massachusetts Book Award in Nonfiction, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography; Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, winner of the Massachusetts Book Award in Nonfiction and the Pulitzer Prize in Biography; and Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast, a finalist for the Christian Gauss Award of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. She is the Charles Wesley Emerson College Professor at Emerson College, where she teaches in the MFA Creative Writing Program, and the 2020–2021 president of the Society of American Historians.

Michelle Nijhuis, a project editor for the Atlantic and a long- time contributing editor for High Country News, is the author of Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction. After fifteen years of the electrical grid in rural Colorado, she and her family now live in southwestern Washington.

Paul Elie is a senior fellow in Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Afairs, and a regular contributor to the New Yorker. He is the author of two books, The Life You Save May Be Your Own (2003) and Reinventing Bach (2012), both National Book Critics Circle Award finalists. A third book, Controversy, is forthcoming. He lives in Brooklyn.

Stacey Vanek Smith is a longtime public radio reporter and host. She currently hosts NPR’s The Indicator from Planet Money, a daily podcast covering business and economics. She has also served as a correspondent and host for Planet Money and Marketplace. A native of Idaho, Stacey is a graduate of Princeton University, where she earned a BA in comparative literature and creative writing and had the great fortune to take a creative nonfiction class with John McPhee. She also holds a MS in journalism from Columbia University.