GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

May 23, 2013

Anastas' 'Walker' shows relevance of history

By Gail McCarthy
Staff Writer

---- — A new book by Gloucester’s Peter Anastas resurrects many issues faced by the nation’s oldest seaport decades ago that continue to simmer in local debate.

He will read from the book titled “A Walker in the City: Elegy for Gloucester” at the Gloucester Writers Center next Wednesday, May 29, at 7:30 p.m. Also reading will be the co-publisher of his book, Ammiel Alcalay, who will read from his new book “a little history.”

Anastas said Ammiel’s book complements his new work, and has much in it about local writers and poets, Charles Olson and Vincent Ferrini. Alcalay is a board member of the Gloucester Writers Center and has Gloucester roots from when his family lived on Rocky Neck in the 1950s and 1960s. The Cape Ann Museum will open a show next month that includes paintings by his father, Albert Alcalay.

The book by Anastas features a selection of columns he wrote for the Gloucester Times between 1978 and 1990. It features an introduction by his son Ben Anastas, a writer, and an afterword by Alcalay. He dedicated the book to the late Peter Watson, former editor of the Gloucester Times, the late Joseph Garland, a fellow writer and historian, and Charles Olson, who inspired him to look closely at his world.

Garland had been urging Anastas to publish such a book for years.

“Joe was a wonderful mentor. Joe had written a column all through the 1960s and 1970s. Joe was a maritime guy and that’s not my background. So he loved that I did the onshore pieces.

He loved that I walked the streets, walked through the neighborhoods and talked to the people, and that I remembered my childhood here in Gloucester,” said Anastas.

The book is divided into four sections.

The first is titled “This Side of the Cut,” referring to the local expression that denoted that he lived on the island side of the city’s bridge. In the 1940s, he grew up on Perkins Road and the first section is about his childhood through the seasons, including the start of summer, Memorial Day and summer day camp.

The second section is titled “A Walker in the City,” which recounts his experiences as he began to explore the larger city away from his neighborhood. He talks about diverse subjects -- the businesses, the gardens, the artists coming to live in Gloucerster, and much more.

The third section is “Seasons and Days,” all of which were Gloucester Daily Times columns about exploring the natural environment of Gloucester, from waking to the sounds of a great horned owl, to the unique aspects of the changing seasons.

The fourth and final section is “Facing the Issues,” which again are newspaper columns with a range of local concerns from the closing of neighborhood schools to fighting the onslaught of fast food with a proposal to open a Burger King, trying to build a shopping mall on the water, and drilling for oil and gas on George’s Bank. Column titles include issues still familiar in the 21st century with “Oil, Fishing Waters Don’t Mix” or “Renewal by Destruction” or “Mall versus Main Street” or “Pro-Gloucester not Anti-Business.”

“The importance of planning is a constant theme. A few people who already have read the book have commented on the fact that some of these issues are ongoing and still facing the city,” said Anastas. “I hoped the book would not only be a nostalgic account of growing up in Gloucester but also that it would highlight the significant issues the community has faced and continues to face.”

“The issues are about how much growth we have, and how much planning we do. How we preserve our working waterfront is a major theme and there is always a concern about the fishing industry,” said Anastas. “The last year that I wrote the column is when we began to experience the crisis in the fishing industry.”

He wanted to talk about why he called the book an elegy.

“An elegy is a celebration of what has been, but it doesn’t mean it is all over,” he said.

In his book, he wrote: “... these essays celebrate a time and place that is still vital if largely in our memories, while lamenting what we have lost and should never have allowed ourselves to let go of: The spirit of a remarkable place.”

An author of 10 books, Anastas was born in Gloucester in 1937 and attended local schools. He holds degrees in English from Bowdoin College and Tufts University. He credits the local newspaper for giving him his start in the world of writing.

“I would not be the writer I am today if I hadn’t started writing when I was 14 years old when I was the Rocky Neck correspondent for the Cape Ann Summer Sun,” he said of an insert for the Gloucester Times.

From a teenage job in the summer of 1951, he has gone on to document local history in his books, which include a memoir. He is also the founding president of the Charles Olson Society, a group which continues to celebrate the legacy of the post-modern poet who made Gloucester his home.

Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at gmccarthy@gloucestertimes.com.