Shelf Life

It takes two

“Top Hat’’ by Paul Gardère is one of the works of art in “Poets for Haiti.’’ “Top Hat’’ by Paul Gardère is one of the works of art in “Poets for Haiti.’’ (Yileen)
By Jan Gardner
Globe Correspondent / November 28, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

In the topsy-turvy world of publishing, Tracy Kidder and his editor, Richard Todd, have been going steady for 40 years. At Harvard University on a recent evening, Kidder, the A.M. Rosenthal writer-in-residence, and Todd talked about the alchemy of writer and editor.

The two worked together at The Atlantic and on books published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. “I glommed onto him,’’ Kidder said. “I was not a profit center. I needed him much more than he needed me.’’

Kidder, who has eight books in print, all edited by Todd, usually comes up with his own ideas, but the one idea that Todd gave him turned into a Pulitzer Prize winner, “The Soul of a New Machine.’’ It began with Todd’s suggestion: “Why don’t you go learn something about computers?’’

For his next book (“House’’), Kidder wanted to write about, as Todd put it, “a group of carpenters nobody ever heard of building a house for an architect nobody ever heard of.’’ Todd told him, “If you can pull this off, then the world is open to you.’’ Kidder kept hunting for another idea, returning to it a year later because he hadn’t come up with something he liked better.

Now Kidder and Todd are writing a book about writing. When asked how the two, each with a distinctive style — Kidder the master of narrative nonfiction and Todd a masterful essayist — would find their way to a finished book, Todd remarked, “All I can say is stay tuned.’’

Hope for Haiti
Six weeks after the earthquake in Haiti last January, 18 poets gathered in Cambridge to give voice to sorrow and hope. Haitian-born poets called on memories and called out in grief. Other poets reached out, seeking common ground. In a poem about Hurricane Katrina’s fury, Rosanna Warren spoke of “the world’s great sorrows.’’

Now the reading has taken on a new life as a book and a fund-raiser. “Poets for Haiti’’ (Yileen) is an anthology of poetry and art, including paintings, prints, and mixed media works, many by Haitian-born artists. All proceeds from sales of the book will go to Partners in Health to help Haiti rebuild. In the preface, Partners founder Dr. Paul Farmer and Partners director Ophelia Dahl noted that 1.5 million people were still living in settlement sites in Port-au-Prince as the book was going to press. They wrote, “The words and images collected here are gifts to all of us: memorials to those passed, comfort to the mourning, and hope for Haiti’s future.’’ Dahl will join Robert Pinsky and other poets for a reading at 7 p.m. on Dec. 8 at Porter Square Books in Cambridge.

Coming out
■ “Bootleggers, Lobstermen & Lumberjacks: Fifty of the Grittiest Moments in the History of Hardscrabble New England’’ by Matthew P. Mayo (Globe Pequot)

■ “Port Mortuary’’ by Patricia Cornwell (Putnam)

■ “Colonel Roosevelt’’ by Edmund Morris (Random House)

Pick of the week
Anita Silvey, book critic and creator of the Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac (, recommends “The Strange Case of Origami Yoda’’ by Tom Angleberger (Amulet): “An origami hand puppet that looks like Yoda of ‘Star Wars’ alters the lives of everyone in a sixth-grade class. With one chapter by each member of the class, the book presents multiple viewpoints about Yoda’s owner, Dwight: Is he an idiot or does his Yoda have the Force? Perfect for fans of Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid series.’’

Jan Gardner can be reached at