‘The Good City’ to Greet Convention-goers

Posted July 19, 2004 at 3:06pm

When the media and delegates arrive at the Democratic National Convention in Boston next week, their welcome bags will contain at least one distinctly literary addition.

Thanks to a grant from the Boston Foundation, the city’s host committee, Boston 2004, will distribute some 30,000 copies of “The Good City: Writers Explore 21st-Century Boston,” a collection of 16 essays by well-known Boston authors — from Jack Beatty to Susan Orlean — to attendees.

Published by Beacon Press, the 175-page volume was inspired by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s decision to publish a series of essays about the South during the 1988 Democratic National Convention, according to the Boston Foundation’s Mary Jo Meisner, a key force behind the project.

After being informed of the Atlanta newspaper’s series by a friend the day after the city learned it had been selected for the convention, Meisner said she remembers thinking, “Man, we should do something like that right here because there are so many wonderful Boston writers.”

Once the idea was hatched, the Boston Foundation moved swiftly to put the pieces in place. “We hooked up with the right agent and the right publishing company and the right editors.” Contributors were given roughly two months “if they were lucky” to craft their essays, said Meisner, adding that they generously agreed to work at a “discounted” rate.

The result, a grouping of charming essays on the city Oliver Wendell Holmes once dubbed “the Hub,” runs the gamut from an insider’s account of the wonkishly liberal Examiner Club to an extended meditation on the psychological and sociological underpinnings of Boston’s die-hard sports fans.

“One of the things Boston confronted in the bid to land the convention was this stuck-in- time sense that the city is still any number of negative things,” said Meisner, pointing to the city’s divisive racial history, particularly the anti-busing riots of the early 1970s. The fact that “Boston is no longer that place” further convinced Meisner, a former Washington Post editor, that the “perception of the city as a racist place from the past” needed to be updated.

With hordes of media expected to blanket the city for the first of the two major quadrennial political powwows, Meisner said she hopes the book will spur them “to branch off into some of the things that are not known or normally written about Boston, such as its track record as a center of “innovation and industry.”

And long after the red, white and blue balloons have dropped on the Kerry nomination and weary delegates and scribes have packed up their bags and left the Fleet Center behind, Katie O’Neil of Beacon Press believes “The Good City” will remain a valuable resource for both residents and visitors alike, as well as for the legions of college freshmen who descend on Beantown each fall.

“It’s a vision of a new Boston,” said O’Neil. “It’s really a comprehensive portrait of the city through the eyes of the people who know it and love it.”