Post UPDATED to correct a misspelling and to add photo credits.
On Thursday, June 30, 2022, a bastion of Baltimoreans gathered in a meeting room at the Enoch Pratt Free Library – Southeast Anchor Branch, in the heart of Highlandtown, to celebrate the launch of the book, A Lovely Place, A Fighting Place, A Charmer: The Baltimore Anthology (Belt Publishing, Cleveland, OH). Our hosts were the book’s Co-Editors (and fellow contributors) Gary M. Almeter and Rafael Alvarez. Half the contributions to the volume were solicited; the other half were assigned (not counting the co-editors or Edgar Allan Poe, whose appearance was summoned). Representing every corner of Baltimore, the contributors created short stories, essays, poems, artwork, and two recipes, to bring to life the Magic that IS Baltimore—beyond the media portrayals of a rat-infested hell hole of murderers and thugs.
Rafael (aka Ralphie) began the celebration by proclaiming the library “The Zappa Branch of the Enoch Pratt Library,” because Frank Zappa (whose statue stands on the library’s grounds) is high on the list of the many famous people we claim. But the beauty of The Baltimore Anthology (hereafter referred to as “The Book”) is that the contributors are a savvy mix of well known and unknown writers and artists who know Baltimore first-hand and love her all the more. A common phrase (and now, a not-so-private joke) in their bios is that they write about “all things Baltimore.”
The Distribution of Contributors’ Copies
As if we were attending our own Commencement ceremony, Ralphie asked all the contributors in attendance to stand, then called us forward one by one to receive our certificates—I mean, our books—with a bear hug and an introduction as we made our way back to our seats. Not long afterward, during the reception (food-and-drink) portion of the evening, we schmoozed and exchanged autographs on the pages of our copies, and business cards to tuck into our pockets, between bites of G&A’s famous chili dogs and Berger’s famous cookies.
The Main Event – Readings from “The Book”
“Herbie” – by Julia Beavers, who read the opening paragraphs of her humorous but poignant story about her Dad’s ne’er-do-well friend Herbie who, clad in a bikini-top, took her family and other friends on an unforgettable day trip in his brand new boat.
“In the Moonlight” – by Ashley Minner, who, in her memoir essay about how The Moonlight, a Greek-owned neighborhood restaurant in East Baltimore, brought together not two, but three disparate and outwardly segregated cultures—White, Black, and her own Lumbee Tribe—shined a light on a lesser-known, yet vital and essential part of Baltimore’s identity, established by way of Robeson County, North Carolina.
“Reporter / Reverend / Baltimorean” – by M. Dion Thompson, whose essay is the first piece in “The Book,” earning him the title, Featured Reader of the Evening. Thompson’s keynote reading was, at turns, part homily, part sermon, as he recounted his 30 years of living—first as a Baltimore Sun reporter, and now as an Episcopal priest—in a city that is highly segregated by neighborhood, ethnicity, and income, yet fiercely connected by common interests, beliefs, goals, and love for this city. Citing Ashley Minner’s revelation that Baltimore is not just Black and White, but Native American, too, he declared Baltimore a Triracial town that is moving, by increments, to a more just, more fair and brighter future.
The evening ended with a Righteous Benediction for those gathered and for the City we adore.
“Go to War, Miss Agness… Ain’t the Beer Cold!
–Chuck Thompson, Orioles Broadcaster and Baseball Hall of Fame Honoree
Yesterday, Ralphie and I were talking about last week’s book launch. He said, “It was one of my proudest moments… out of the thousands of readings I’ve hosted. The Love in the room! The Diversity—of demographics and geography!”
I don’t remember if I said this to him, but I’ll say it now: Magic happens! You can’t predict it or plan it, but when it happens…. Oh, my!