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Voogd Publishes Maynard, Massachusetts: A House in the Village

Jan Voogd  
Jan Voogd, Head of Collection Management for the Social Sciences Program, turned her regular town newspaper columns into a book: Maynard, Massachusetts: A House in the Village.

June 20, 2007 – Not too long ago, Jan Voogd, Head of Collection Management for the Social Sciences Program, was one of six locals contributing to a regular column in her town newspaper called "Only in Maynard." Every six weeks she’d write her piece on an aspect of life that, as she describes it, gives Maynard its own quirkiness. A year’s worth of writing later, she decided her material might just make a book and, within another year, turned her occasional columns into the recently published Maynard, Massachusetts: A House in the Village.

Voogd has her own unique take on her work. "The idea is that it’s not a comprehensive history," she explains. "It’s a place memoir, which I define as a selected history of a particular place that captures its unique spirit."

Throughout A House in the Village, Voogd covers murder, mayhem, compelling town characters, and various struggles that Maynard has faced, like striking labor unions. All the stories either happened there in Maynard or involved someone from the town, says Voogd, but she followed a couple of additional selection guidelines. "For one thing, there had to be something compelling about the story and it had to demonstrate some kind of larger truth."

Voogd defines her new book as a "place memoir," in which she uses a selected history of Maynard, Mass., to try to capture the town's quirky spirit.

"It also had to be a story with information available about it," she adds. "There were some really interesting bits and pieces that I ran across, but then I couldn’t find out more."

The ones she did choose span the mid-1800s to the 1950s and tended to be reported in larger newspapers, like the New York Times, suggesting a relationship between Maynard and the larger world, says Voogd, which she was after. She found through her research, mainly with historic newspaper databases, that one story would lead her on to the next. "These interesting things would just jump out and I’d look into them further," says Voogd.

She distilled her research on Maynard’s "quirkiness" into 15 chapters, each with multiple stories. She doesn’t want to give much away but, for one, there’s the story about the history of Finnish consumer cooperatives in Maynard and how it relates to the broader history of cooperatives. Then there’s her favorite story involving a paratrooper from Maynard who ran into plane trouble, jumped—although his fellow fliers stayed on board and landed safely—and was considered missing in the state of Washington for four days before he came home, with frostbite, to a big welcome party in Maynard.

Voogd’s project is finished, but it’s left her with a more nuanced appreciation of her town. "You learn all these interesting facts that aren’t right there on the surface," she says. "You can find history in unlikely places and, if you interpret it more broadly, make it meaningful to people."