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Homeless Book Club Tackles BU Author

Dick Lehr to speak to unique group cofounded by LAW alum

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Boston’s homeless book club is reading The Fence by Dick Lehr. The COM journalism professor and former longtime investigative journalist will be the guest speaker at the group’s next meeting.

As a former longtime investigative journalist at the Boston Globe, Dick Lehr has covered the city inside and out, particularly its gritty side—the Mafia, police corruption, Whitey Bulger, life on the street. So when the College of Communication journalism professor heard there was a book club for the homeless in Boston, he wanted to know more.

“There’s that part of me, the journalist in me, that’s always curious about aspects of the city that I don’t know,” says Lehr, a Pulitzer Prize finalist. “It seemed unusual. I’d never heard of a book club for the homeless. I thought it was an interesting and neat idea. These people are of, and about, Boston. Most of what I write about is set in Boston.”

That curiosity led Lehr, the author of such true-crime books as The Fence: A Police Cover-up Along Boston’s Racial Divide and Black Mass: The Irish Mob, the FBI and a Devil’s Deal, and with fellow COM professor Mitchell Zuckoff, Judgment Ridge: The True Story Behind the Dartmouth Murders, to reach out to the club. They decided to make The Fence their next selection and invited Lehr to be a guest speaker. He will visit with the group tomorrow, January 25, at the Church on the Hill in Boston. The public is invited.

“What’s really exciting is that this is about Boston, our home,” says Ron Tibbetts, an Episcopal deacon and head of the Oasis Coalition, which oversees the club. “Certainly everybody who will be there knows bits and pieces of the stomping grounds Lehr describes.”

The Fence tells the story of Michael Cox, an African American plainclothes officer brutally beaten in 1995 by fellow police officers when he was mistaken for a murder suspect. He and another officer soon came up against the infamous Blue Wall of Silence in their pursuit of justice. Looming large in Lehr’s book is the character of Boston, described on the dust jacket as “a city where tribalism and a troubled history of race relations are part of the fabric.”

“I felt the book would really be a good fit,” says Lehr. “With the focus being on the Boston Police Department, I thought that might be most immediate to their lives. I’m expecting to learn something from being with them. There’s a whole other side of the police world, the police culture, policing in Boston that I wouldn’t know about if I didn’t go to this group.”

The homeless book club was cofounded by lawyer Peter Resnik (LAW’70) three years ago as the result of an exchange between him and two homeless men on the Boston Common. Over time, friendly hellos turned into conversations, which led to the discovery of a mutual love of books, and then the birth of a simple yet singular idea. In the shadow of the Massachusetts statehouse, Resnik, Tibbetts, and a group of homeless men and women have been meeting every Tuesday morning to commune and empower themselves through the written word. Reading can literally be an escape from the rigors of daily survival. The club has tackled a wide range of books, including Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, and Michael Patrick MacDonald’s All Souls: A Family Story from Southie. Discussion often relates back to life on the street. The concept has since been replicated across the country and abroad.

Tibbetts anticipates a lively discussion on Tuesday and pointed questions from the club.

“One of our members is fascinated by the Blue Wall,” he says. “I and another member are interested in the chaos of the moment. Another is interested in the legal maneuvering. We’re also interested in how much of the narrative has poetic license in it. Having Dick Lehr visit us is a great gift.”

Lehr and Tibbetts encourage members of the BU community, particularly students, to attend the session.

“The club is a window on a part of the city we don’t really get to see, or people to talk to, or be part of,” Lehr says. “I’m thinking this would appeal to journalism students who are curious. This city is where they live and are going to school now. There are homeless all around us. This is a vehicle to connect with and to hear and talk to people in that world.”

Dick Lehr will attend the homeless book club meeting on Tuesday, January 25, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Church on the Hill, 140 Bowdoin St., Boston. Take the Green Line inbound to Park Street station.

Caleb Daniloff can be reached at cdanilof@bu.edu.

1 Comments

One Comment on Homeless Book Club Tackles BU Author

  • Anonymous on 01.24.2011 at 11:18 pm

    Anybody else disappointed this isn’t a story about the book club physically tackling Professor Lehr? He was smiling in the pic so I thought they were giving him a big group hug for a good deed…

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