From Near and Far: A PEN Out Loud Reading List
Staceyann Chin and Nicole Dennis-Benn will discuss Chin’s new poetry collection, Crossfire: A Litany for Survival, at PEN Out Loud on October 14. In anticipation of their conversation, here are 21 novels and poetry collections that cross nations, genres, and identities.
Crossfire: A Litany for Survival, Staceyann Chin
In Crossfire: A Litany for Survival, Staceyann Chin crafts raw and revolutionary feminist-LGBTQIA+-Caribbean poetry. Described as “jet fuel for the body,” her exacting and piercing poems will unearth sorrow, rage, and pure unmitigated life force.
Patsy, Nicole Dennis-Benn
In her second novel, Patsy, Nicole Dennis-Benn creates a stirring portrait of motherhood, immigration, and sexual liberation. After Patsy immigrates to New York City leaving her young daughter behind in Jamaica she discovers that the city is not as she imagined. What ensues is a fierce exploration of womanhood, sacrifice, and the geographical and emotional limits of love.
Here Comes the Sun, Nicole Dennis-Benn
Nicole Dennis-Benn’s radiant debut novel takes its readers to a small fictional town in Jamaica, where residents’ homes are being threatened by a commercial developer. Margo, the novel’s protagonist, struggles between protecting her younger sister and wanting financial freedom to be with the woman she loves. With a compelling cast of characters, this memorable debut explores forbidden love and what it means to be a gay woman in contemporary Jamaica.
Gingerbread, Helen Oyeyemi
Helen Oyeyemi, winner of the PEN/Open Book Award, returns with Gingerbread, an exhilarating and original novel about a family that emigrated from a far-away land. Oyeyemi’s enviable imagination and spellbinding writing shines through in this playful and intelligent story of family and imagination.
The Travelers, Regina Porter
The Travelers, Porter’s ambitious debut, has already been hailed as a “sparkling American epic” by The Guardian. The novel follows two families, one white and one black, and their intersecting lives from the 1950s to Obama’s presidency. Moving from Berlin to New Hampshire, from crayon factory to Coney Island, this brilliantly executed novel provides a sweeping portrait of what it means to be American today.
Searching for Sylvie Lee, Jean Kwok
Searching for Sylvie Lee follows a Chinese immigrant family and their reaction when their eldest daughter disappears. Jean Kwok’s latest novel examines cultural and linguistic barriers, family secrets, change, and the expansive identities of immigrants.
Eye Level, Jenny Xie
A gorgeously written debut and a finalist for the PEN Open Book Award, Eye Level takes readers from the streets of Hanoi to New York with precise imagery and language. Filled with sensual wording that gives color and feeling to the formless, Eye Level brings to life questions on immigration and travel with polished grace.
1919, Dr. Eve Ewing
Through the lens of the 1919 Chicago Race Riot, Ewing borrows from speculative fiction and afrofuturism—penning reflective poems that reveal hidden histories. Precise and hard-hitting, this collection reminds us how present history is in our daily lives.
Incendiary Art, Patricia Smith
As its title suggests, Incendiary Art is a blazing poetry collection that delves into a thorough exploration of the black body and the tyranny that suppresses it. Revisiting the murder of Emmet Till and examining a backdrop of contemporary racial injustice, Smith has created an electrifying collection of history, rhyme, and formal innovation.
The Tradition, Jericho Brown
Described as “a relentless dismantling of identity” by Rita Dove, Jericho Brown’s poetry is sharp, calculated, and biting. Oscillating between the large and small, the broad and intimate, Brown turns conventional form on its head to address issues facing queer men of color.
Magical Negro, Morgan Parker
Full of dimension and song, Morgan Parker’s collection Magical Negro is a declaration of womanhood and black everyday-ness. Highlighting contemporary folk heroes and figureheads, Magical Negro is both an elegy and a tribute to black triumph and narrative.
Feeld, Jos Charles
A test of language and phonetics, of Middle English tradition and contemporary speech, Jos Charles’s poetry collection, Feeld, explores the trans experience through the fragility of words and sound. Employing an experimental approach to writing, Feeld merges gender and speech into a gorgeously formed queer narrative.
Olio, Tyehimba Jess
A blend of performance art and traditional poetry, Tyehimba Jess’s Pultizer Prize-winning work, Olio, is a lyrical tribute to the collective stories of first generation freed slaves. Part hymn, part song, Olio is a remembrance filled with precise dimension and unbowed voice.
A Cruelty Special to Our Species, Emily Jungmin Moon
In this sharp debut poetry collection, Moon addresses histories of sexual violence against women, weaving together staggering poems on gender, race, and violence. These honest, vulnerable poems illuminate the realities and injustices of our present.
American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, Terrence Hayes
A collection including more than 70 sonnets of the same name, Terrence Hayes’s American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin is a feat of stunning prose and line-work. A poet who doesn’t hesitate to address issues in politics and society, Hayes remains a tour de force with his latest collection.
The Carrying, Ada Limón
In her brave and piercing collection The Carrying, a finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, Limón finds the extraordinary in everyday life. This collection explores themes of love, desire, fertility, femininity, and much, much more.
Hybrida: Poems, Tina Chang
The latest from the Poet Laureate of Brooklyn, Tina Chang’s collection Hybrida investigates the complexities of race through a blend of the traditional forms ghazals, zuihitsu, and mosaic poetry. Influenced by raising her mixed-race child, Chang’s poems and lyric essays investigate racial tension and identity construction across the American landscape.
A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing, DaMaris Hill
In A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing, Hill reveals histories of black women fighting for freedom through artful poetry that is as beautiful as it is raw and biting. Hill draws on notable black female writers—inhabiting the long legacy of unbowed black women writing for freedom and justice.
The Crazy Bunch, Willie Perdomo
In his playful but salient poetry collection, Perdomo chronicles coming-of-age alongside hip-hop in East Harlem. The New Yorker writes: “This immersive poetry collection proceeds like a mixtape or a gnostic gospel . . . oracular, intoxicating.”
& more black, T’ai Freedom Ford
With poems driven by an emotional and kinetic power, T’ai Freedom Ford’s poetry collection & more black takes its cue from Wanda Coleman’s American Sonnets—creating poetry that revolves around sonically-charged language. Visceral and revelatory, & more black hypnotizes through its sheer and direct wordplay.
Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods, Tishani Doshi
This elegant poetry collection serves as an ode to the body, portraying violence against women and reclaiming agency through novel perspective. Doshi’s poems are textural, sweeping, and gracefully balanced as they search for truth and vulnerability.