PEN Out Loud with Jason Reynolds and Greg Pardlo: A Reading List
This February, best-selling and multi-award-winning author Jason Reynolds and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Greg Pardlo in conversation for the launch of the 2018 season of PEN Out Loud, presented in collaboration with PEN America and the Strand Book Store. In a candid author-to-author conversation, they will discuss the vital importance of a literary canon that is representative, contemporary, and hopeful, as they speak about craft, interrogate and celebrate each other’s work, and provide insight into their respective relationship with poetry and prose as a means of expression.
PEN Out Loud is a monthly series presented by PEN America in collaboration with Strand Book Store. This series provides a platform to amplify diverse voices and convene vital conversations on the ways in which threats to free expression affect readers and writers alike.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Jason Reynolds’s New York Times best seller Long Way Down takes place in a series of impactful moments in an elevator. Will is on his way to take revenge for the murder of his brother. These elevator encounters could sway Will’s intentions as he makes this life-changing decision. This suspenseful story written in staccato narrative free-verse triggers conversations on gang violence, pain, truth, and redemption.
Digest by Gregory Pardlo
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Digest, Gregory Pardlo interprets everything from fatherhood, American identity, and life in Brooklyn to racial politics and police brutality. Beautifully crafted yet subtle, Pardlo takes us through his work in three sections, exploring links between academia and pop-culture, the classical and the contemporary, and the written word and other art forms.
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
Go Tell It on The Mountain is a semi-autobiographical novel documenting the story of John Grimes, an intelligent teenager in the 1930s, and his relationship to his family and church. Filled with adept imagery, the novel focuses on the role of the Pentecostal Church in the lives of African Americans as a source of repression and moral hypocrisy, but also as a source of inspiration and community.
Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
Climbing the Stairs, the remarkable debut novel of scientist-turned-novelist, Padma Venkatraman, is a powerful story about love and loss set against a fascinating historical conflict. It poignantly depicts a young girl’s hardships to find her place in British-occupied India during World War II.
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Walter Dean Myers’s New York Times best-selling Monster narrates the life of Steven Harmon, an amateur film-maker and juvenile on trial. Written as an imaginative screenplay of Steven’s life, this award-winning novel examines the criminal justice system, teen masculinity, identity formation, and how one decision can alter your life completely.
Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Ocean Vuong’s first full-length poetry collection, directs the readers toward the subjects of romance, family, memory, grief, and war. The perfect blend of vulnerability, power, and humanity makes this book not only relatable but also a must-read.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Winner of the National Book Award for fiction, Jesmyn Ward’s third novel Sing, Unburied, Sing is a road novel with a family story of three generations and the ghosts that haunt them. In this journey of hope and struggle, the characters discover themselves, giving us a glimpse at the ugly truths of the American story and the power and limitations of family bonds.
X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon
Co-written by the daughter of Malcolm X, Ilyasah Shabazz, this historical fiction reveals the formative years of Malcolm X: how he tackled his struggles and persevered to become a great leader and activist for African American rights. The series of events which influenced him are presented with raw honesty and in beautiful language.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
In her debut novel, The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas presents the story of a teenage girl who moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the posh suburban prep school she attends. She is drawn to activism after witnessing the police shooting of her unarmed friend. This thought-provoking young adult novel presents the realities of people behind the headlines and emphasizes the need to speak for justice.
Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester
Julius Lester begins Let’s Talk about Race, an illustrated children’s book, with “I am a story. So are you. So is everyone.” In narrating his own story, Lester introduces the reader to ideas of race, identity, and what it would look like to celebrate our differences and similarities. Beautifully illustrated and effectively written, Lester’s book is a great point of entry for readers of all ages.
Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones
Saeed Jones crafts a coming of age tale in Prelude to Bruise, which touches moments of assault, articulations of femininity, and history of Black America. At times called “hard to swallow,” but always beautiful, these poems remind us of the importance of listening to stories — especially stories which tell of pain and then healing.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Turning back to 1960s and 1970s America under Jim Crow, Jacqueline Woodson emotionally and vividly portrays life as an African American in Brown Girl Dreaming. Each poem reflects on childhood, developing a love of stories, and identity formation amidst racialized oppression.
Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks explores racial and economic tensions as she writes about the lives of African Americans, poverty, and community in this 1950 Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry collection. Both concrete and abstract, Brooks uses precise and simple language in poems like “Truth,” “To be in love,” and “The mother” in this timeless collection.
Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Vol. 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates
From the author of Between the World and Me and We Were Eight Years in Power, comes the Marvel graphic novel Black Panther. When terror strikes the African nation of Wakanda, Black Panther must learn to adapt in order for their nation to survive. This is a story about a conflicted leader bent on protecting the will of his nation, but forced to reconcile the evolving realities of a world plagued by terror.
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
A New York Times best seller and considered a classic, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros deals with a young Latina girl, focusing on her rich culture and the difficulties of growing up in a modern world. Cisneros’s simple yet poignant writing and pervading sense of optimism grab the attention of a wide range of readers.