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Residents at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough receive a lunch basket each day so they don’t have to stop working. Residents at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough receive a lunch basket each day so they don’t have to stop working. (Victoria Sambunari)
By Jan Gardner
Globe Correspondent / August 7, 2011

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For more than 100 years, the MacDowell Colony in southern New Hampshire has been a kind of heaven on earth for writers, composers, and visual artists. Each person accepted for a residency gets a private studio for weeks or months. And a lunch basket is left on the doorstep every day so as not to interrupt anyone’s muse. Among the famous works that grew out of residencies at the colony are James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son,’’ Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,’’ and Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass.’’

The public is invited to visit, picnic on the grounds, and tour artists’ studios only one day a year - the day that the Edward MacDowell Medal, named for the colony’s cofounder, is awarded to an outstanding artist. This year’s Medal Day ceremony will be held at 12:15 p.m. on Aug. 14. The recipient will be playwright Edward Albee. In announcing the award, Andre Bishop, artistic director of the Lincoln Center Theater and chairman of the medalist selection committee, called Albee “a towering presence in the American theater.’’ Film and theater director Mike Nichols, who directed a film adaptation of Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,’’ and writer Michael Chabon, chairman of the colony’s board of directors, will offer remarks.

For a full list of activities, visit www.macdowellcolony.org.

Transported by books Edith Wharton’s “In Morocco,’’ about her journey just after World War I, is a classic of travel literature. Henry James in “Italian Hours’’ wrote about his enchantment with the country that became the setting for some of his best-known novels. And the music composed by Paul Bowles was deeply influenced by his visits to exotic locales.

Travel transformed the 19th- and 20th-century American expatriates whose writings are being explored in a series of seminars under way at Boston University’s Mugar Library, 771 Commonwealth Ave. These are bargain armchair adventures. The Boston Poetry Union is charging $5 for each two-hour class taught by Christopher M. Ohge, a doctoral candidate at BU. No prior knowledge is assumed, and no preparation is expected, although reading packets are available for each session.

This is the third summer the union has held a seminar series, according to organizer Zachary Bos. Registrants include an astronomer, a bartender, and a psychotherapist as well as graduate students in literature.

At each session, Ohge will talk about the themes of that evening’s texts before leading a group discussion focused on a close reading of them. Each seminar stands on its own.

This Thursday, from 6 to 8 p.m., James and Wharton will be discussed. Stein and T.S. Eliot are the focus on Aug. 18, and the series ends Aug. 25 with a seminar on Bowles, the subject of Ohge’s doctoral dissertation. To register, send an e-mail with the dates you plan to attend to bostonpoetryunion@gmail.com. Attendance is capped at 12 students per seminar.

Coming out

“On the Origin of Tepees: The Evolution of Ideas (and Ourselves)’’ by Jonnie Hughes (Free Press)

“The Digital Mom Handbook: How to Blog, Vlog, Tweet, and Facebook Your Way to a Dream Career at Home’’ by Audrey McClelland and Colleen Padilla (Harper)

“Becoming Marie Antoinette’’ by Juliet Grey (Ballantine)

Pick of the Week Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn., recommends “Turn of Mind’’ (Grove Atlantic) by Alice LaPlante: “Dr. Jennifer White is a brilliant retired orthopedic surgeon with rapidly worsening dementia. Did she hate her lifelong best friend so much that she severed her four fingers? By unraveling complex family dynamics and the intimate wounds of long ago, LaPlante creates a thrilling mystery that is as haunting as Lisa Genova’s ‘Still Alice’ but with a murderous twist.’’

Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com.