Recommended Reading: Diversity in Literature
Over the next month, PEN will be highlighting titles that have been longlisted for the 2014 PEN Literary Awards as a helpful guide for your summer reading. Check back for the latest features and insights every Monday and Thursday through June 18, when we’ll announce the awards shortlists.
Our judges Catherine Chung, Randa Jarrar, and Monica Youn have chosen the following books for this year’s PEN Open Book Award for an exceptional book-length work of literature by an author of color. Covering a range of genres (Short stories! Poetry! Fiction!), these titles offer fresh glimpses into diverse cultures and introduce some startling new voices, writing both from within the U.S. and abroad. Check them out and get reading!
Southern Cross the Dog (Ecco), Bill Cheng
In an interview with ALIST Magazine, Cheng explains, “For me, writing outside of race isn’t an end in of itself. It’s done in service to the larger story or my vision for that larger story. In my case, I originally conceived of the book as being a tribute to country blues music which is by and large a product of Southern black culture. To me, it would seem disingenuous to attempt the same book from the point of view of a white character or of an Asian character.” Read more of the article here.
Duppy Conqueror (Copper Canyon Press), Kwame Dawes
Kwame Dawes’ book, Publisher’s Weekly describes, “reveals a writer syncretic, effusive, affectionate, alert to familial joys, but also sensitive to history, above all to the struggles of African diasporic history—the Middle Passage, sharecropper-era South Carolina, the Kingston of Bob Marley, whose song gives this big book its title. Dawes is at home with cityscape and seascape, patois and transatlantic tradition.”
Leaving Tulsa (University of Arizona Press), Jennifer Elise Foerster
“Foerster, herself identifying as both European and Muscogee descent, explores a complex notion of identity through her works. A particularly powerful poem, ‘Vanishing Lessons’ gives the reader instructions, with a rather tongue-in-cheek tone, as to how to disappear, or perhaps, how to make a part of one’s self disappear. ‘Gather the bones,/mortar them with sugar, add a capful of whiskey and corn cake flour. Stamp flat.'” Read more on Foerster’s debut book of poetry at Boxcar Poetry Review.
The Cineaste (W.W. Norton & Company), A. Van Jordan
Van Jordan’s fourth book is a collection of poetry inspired by films and their connection to the observer: “it cross-examines the experience of watching films about which the reader is perhaps ambivalent. In this cross-examination, Jordan’s true subject is the historical understanding that comes from film, the uses of film in bearing witness, and the possibilities for innovation in using poetry to write about cinema.” Check out the review on The Rumpus.
domina Un/blued (Tupelo Press), Ruth Ellen Kocher
Kocher’s fourth book explores the dislocated slave narrative through verse. Poet’s Quarterly’s review appraises her poem ‘Translation Excersize/Esercizio di traduzione’: “This poem inoculates the reader with a sense of what the book will explore: the craft of ownership, sex, the body, and enslavement, just to identify a few motifs. There is a searching in this poem that serves as a microcosm for the book as a whole.” More on her latest book here.
Cowboys and East Indians (FiveChapters Books), Nina McConigley
McConigley discusses her debut collection of short stories and their connection to her identity: “It’s complicated because I feel like a Wyoming girl but also definitely Indian, so all my writing seems to surround that dichotomy in some way. And even the stories that I write that don’t have an Indian as the main character, I still think that those characters are sort of outsiders and are still grappling with where they fit in.” Read more of her interview with Blue Mesa Review.
Buy a copy on FiveChapters.
A Tale for the Time Being (Viking Adult), Ruth Ozeki
New York Journal of books discusses Ozeki’s latest semi-autobiographical novel: “Every person, animal, life form, building, city, town, and forest in this story feels real and congruent. You can almost reach into the book and pet the cat, yell at the bullies, shake Nao’s father, hear the wind, see the crow take flight, and feel the ancient, chilly, wooden temple floor beneath your knees as you bow. There are so many exquisite lines of prose within A Tale for the Time Being, that it is difficult to choose a few that will give readers’ a taste of this sweet, caustic, entertaining, and captivating novel.” Read more here.
Ghana Must Go (Penguin Press), Taiye Selasi
“‘Ghana Must Go‘ is a tale that tackles so many topics; the obvious story-line revolves around the theme of abandonment. Selasi does an amazing job of providing varying insight into each of the five characters ‘left behind’ so to speak. Her delicate and detailed sensitivity into how each member of the Sai family handles the oh-so sudden departure of Kweku Sai so differently will resonate with any reader”. Read the review and watch an interview with Selasi on Chaud Mag.