8 Underrated and Unconventional Horror Books You Need This Halloween

As early as August, department stores become the harbingers of Halloween, stocking garlands of bats, plastic pumpkins, and bags bursting with candy corn. There’s no better way to celebrate this spookiest of holidays than curling up with a good horror novel. In case you’ve already mined your library’s stock of Stephen King and Shirley Jackson, we’ve pulled together a list of eight titles that lie off the beaten path. From genre-bending literary short stories to an anthology of comics, there’s something here to frighten and delight even the most practiced of horror fans.

The Deaths of Henry King by Jesse Ball and Brian Evenson, with illustrations by Lilli Carré (Uncivilized Books)

the deaths of henry king.jpg

The hapless Henry King meets a series of macabre demises in this wickedly funny book from horror experts Brian Evenson and Jesse Ball. One day, King awakes “with a hammer partway through his head.” He proceeds to be eaten by a bear, asphyxiate in space, and even find death in a bottle of Viagra (don’t ask). With black-and-white illustrations from Lilli Carré—which are eerily similar to gravestone carvings—this book will have you alternately laughing and groaning. The Deaths of Henry King is a great choice for anyone who enjoys the work of Edward Gorey and a healthy dose of schadenfreude.

Thirteen Views of the Suicide Woods by Bracken MacLeod (Chizine Publications)thirteen views

You won’t find any goblins or ghouls in this book. Bracken MacLeod’s brand of horror is far more insidious than any jump scare or gore-a-thon. In the stories of Thirteen Views of the Suicide Woods, MacLeod strips the genre down to its bare essentials. He cuts right to the heart of what humans fear most—loneliness, helplessness, desperation—with subtle and poetic prose that will raise goosebumps before you even realize you are afraid. “MacLeod’s characters, who are often working-class people with dangerously low expectations of life, remind me of the doomed protagonists of Cornell Woolrich’s novels and stories, those hapless folks for whom everything, elaborately and implacably, sooner or later goes wrong,” a review in the New York Times Book Review quipped, adding, “Sounds like horror to me.”

Hadriana in All My Dreams by René Depestre, translated by Kaiama L. Glover (Akashic Books)

hadriana in all my dreamsIn the past decade, the horror genre has become saturated with zombies, from 28 Days Later to The Girl With All the Gifts. If you love tales of the undead but can’t stand any more post-apocalyptic adventure movies, René Depestre has the antidote. Originally published in French in 1988, Hadriana in All My Dreams takes the zombie novel back to its roots in Haitian Vodou. A young woman (the titular Hadriana) mysteriously dies at the altar on her wedding. When she is resurrected days later by an evil sorcerer, the town is thrown into a panic. Don’t dismiss this book as genre fluff: in the slim 245 pages of Hadriana in All My Dreams, Depestre manages to tackle the complexities of race and sexuality in twentieth-century Haiti, as well as the dueling ideologies of colonialist Christianity and Vodou.

The Doll’s Alphabet by Camilla Grudova (Coffee House Press)

From the opening line of the very first story—“One afternoon, after finishing a cup of doll's alphabet.jpgcoffee in her living room, Greta discovered how to unstitch herself”—Camilla Grudova’s writing crawls beneath your skin and gives you chills. The literary love child of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya and Margaret Atwood, Grudova alternates between stories of the supernatural and stories of humanity; it’s difficult to say which is more unnerving. It may be incorrect to call this book strictly horror: Grudova’s writing dances between true horror and literary fiction, twirling in the dark and grotesque and gory nature of the world. Whatever it is, it’s strikingly beautiful, and this is definitely not a title to miss.

sleep of reasonThe Sleep of Reason: An Anthology of Horror edited by C. Spike Trotman (Iron Circus Comics)

Clocking in at a whopping 360 pages, The Sleep of Reason features 26 stories by beloved artists ranging from Steven Universe comics illustrator Melanie Gillman to Ignatz Award winner Gabby Schulz. This anthology has everything, from classic horror staples (like creepy murderous kids and flesh-eating aliens) to fresh, inventive terrors (like a monster who lures in its victims by mimicking the cries for help of those it’s already killed). Even the familiar tropes, however, are flipped on their heads, with each panel filled with twists and turns that will make sure you keep the light on long after putting the book down.

A Collapse of Horses by Brian Evenson (Coffee House Press)

collapse of horses

Yes, this is technically the second Brian Evenson title on this list, but when you’ve been a finalist for the Edgar Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, the World Fantasy Award, as well as the winner of the International Horror Guild Award and the American Library Association’s award for Best Horror Novel, you’ve earned it. Like many titles on this list, Evenson’s horror is subtle and minimalist, but his writing tunes specifically in to the human psyche. Though you’ll find unsettling paranormal activity in this book—like a stuffed bear’s heart that beats with the rhythm of a dead baby’s—the real terror comes from Evenson’s narration, and the way he captures all the tics and paranoia of the human mind cannibalizing itself. If you’ve already devoured A Collapse of Horses, be sure to check out the other volumes in Evenson’s short story quartet, including Last Days, Father of Lies, and The Open Curtain.

The Rib from Which I Remake the World by Ed Kurtz (Chizine Publications)

the rib from which i remake

The Rib From Which I Remake the World begins with the façade of a hard-boiled noir: a grizzled old ex-cop with a complicated past is sucked back into the world of crime when a travelling picture show comes to town. At a special midnight viewing, each member of the audience finds themselves watching a film of their deepest fears. From there, the book takes a sharp turn into a supernatural, rattling along at a breakneck pace until its shocking conclusion. Genre mash-ups like this one are difficult to execute, but Kurtz navigates it deftly, with writing so visceral and evocative it feels less like reading a book and more like watching a film in real time.

The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle (Global Book Sales/Tramp Press)

the uninvited

Like Hadriana in All My Dreams, The Uninvited is a story that has maintained its potency over several decades. The Uninvited is rich with the gothic atmosphere that pervaded much of Irish literature in the 1940s. When journalist Roderick Fitzgerald hears of a beautiful house overlooking the Devon Cliffs that is rumored to be uninhabitably haunted, he immediately purchases the property and moves in with his sister. The ghosts of the house quickly prove to be more than just rumors, and Roderick must unravel the mystery of their existence before it is too late. Though this book may sound like many other ghost stories of the genre, what sets it apart is the complete and utter conviction with which Macardle writes. The characters—living and dead—leap off the page. The book was adapted into film in 1944, and Martin Scorsese has since called it one of the scariest horror stories of all time.

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8 Books to Read During Pride Month And 3 More to Look Out For Later This Year

Happy Pride Month! Being a part of the LGBTQ community means supporting each other through the good times and the bad, embracing our differences and complexities, and making those unheard voices heard. From a trans teen romance to a queer space opera, we’ve pulled a list of 10 great #OwnVoices LGBTQ reads to last you through Pride Month and the rest of the year.

And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality by Mark Segal (Akashic Books/Open Lens, October 6, 2015)

Speaking of LGBT history, from the Stonewall riots in the 1970s to the very first Gay Pride reception hosted by President Obama in 2008, Mark Segal has seen it all. He made his first appearance on the national stage of the LGBT rights movement on December 11, 1973, when he crashed a live broadcast on CBS and yelled “Gays protest CBS prejudice!” Needless to say, his memoir, And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality, is one of the most fascinating things you’ll read all year. His experiences and achievements are unbelievably impressive, but Segal relates them all without a hint of braggadocio, speaking candidly and simply as he does. (Segal’s memoir also won the 2016 Excellence in Book Writing Award from the Association of LGBTQ Journalists, if you need further proof of the power of his work.)

Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh (Arsenal Pulp Press, September 3, 2013)

Watching the movie Blue is the Warmest Color is an LGBT rite of passage, but have you read the graphic novel that started it all? Like the movie, the book tells the story of Clementine, a shy, in-the-closet teenager who becomes captivated by the confident, blue-haired Emma. This marks the start of a passionate and tragic romance charged with all of the energy, naivety, and hopefulness of youth. Julie Maroh works in stunning watercolor and ink illustrations that bring a soft, dreamy quality to this iconic love story. Her art is even more cinematic and emotive than the movie. Warning: you will cry.

God in Pink by Hasan Namir (Arsenal Pulp Press, November 17, 2015)

 

Clocking in at just 150 pages, God in Pink proves that novels don’t have to be massive epics to pack a powerful punch. Our protagonist, Ramy, is a university student in war-torn Iraq who finds himself caught in between his desire to explore his sexuality and his desire to please his brother, a conservative (and homophobic) Muslim. After the death of his parents, the pressure mounts for Ramy to find a wife. Desperate for a way out, Ramy seeks advice from a sheikh at the local mosque, and is forced to untangle contradictions between his life, his religion, and his culture. Namir uses simple and beautiful language to dive into the world of dreams and reality, using touches of magic and Islamic canon to give the reader a deeper understanding of Ramy’s struggle. This book is poignant, timely, and will resonate with anyone who has tried to reconcile who they are with who the world wants them to be.

Nochita by Dia Felix (City Lights Publishers, April 8, 2014)

Nochita is a queer coming-of-age novel like you’ve never read before. While lots of LGBT fiction centers around a coming out story, Nochita examines self-discovery of another kind. The novel focuses less on the titular protagonist’s sexual identity, which is never given a bright-line definition, and more on Nochita’s attempts to carve her own place in the gritty underbelly of California’s counter-culture, after the realization that the adults in her life are incapable of raising her themselves. LGBT people old and young will hear notes of themselves in Nochita’s story, which is full of yearning, ferocity, dark humor, and all of the mistakes (and victories) of youth. Straddling the line between poetry and prose, Felix’s writing is medicine for the soul. It’s lyrical without becoming overly sentimental; poignant without becoming didactic. Nochita is a book you’ll want to pass on to every other queer person you meet.

Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High-Heels by Justin Vivian Bond (The Feminist Press at CUNY, August 16, 2011)

An Obie-award winner and Tony nominee, Justin Vivian Bond has been shattering ideas of gender in the performance world for over thirty years. Bond’s memoir, Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High-Heels, zooms in on Bond’s childhood, tuning a keen focus into what it means to grow up queer and trans in a small town. Despite dealing with complex issues like discovering sexuality, power dynamics, and childhood bullying, Bond’s writing maintains a certain kind of levity, a finely executed whistling in the dark. Bond is characteristically candid throughout, and reading Tango feels as though Bond has gathered us the readers around a fireplace to share a story and a laugh. Oh, and in case you needed more convincing, this book was blurbed by Yoko Ono. Yeah. That Yoko Ono.

Shadoweyes by Sophie Campbell (Iron Circus Comics, April 18, 2017)

A teenage superhero story written by a trans woman featuring a crew of misfits battling evil in a futuristic dystopia? Paying attention now? In Scout’s city, there’s only one way to get justice: you have to do it yourself. But Scout’s first foray into vigilante-ism doesn’t end quite the way she imagines, and she gets knocked unconscious. When she wakes, she discovers that she can transform into a powerful superhuman creature: Shadoweyes. Campbell’s art and writing are addictive; it’s impossible to just read one page. Though it’s a dystopia, the world Campbell creates is full of eye-popping colors and characters with personalities as vibrant as their designs. Shadoweyes also has quite the spectrum of individuals: it’s got characters of color, disabled characters, queer characters, and even an intersex character. In short: read this book. You won’t regret it.

100 Crushes by Elisha Lim (Koyama Press, June 10, 2014)

Elisha Lim is an artist who believes that comics shouldn’t be reserved for straight, white, or cisgender experiences. 100 Crushes is a compilation of five years’ worth of queer comics, a mix of memoir, interviews, tributes, and more. Lim alternates between profiles of “gender rebels” they admire and shorter, more intimate personal anecdotes. Along the way, Lim experiments visually with everything from patterns and textures to fonts and story structures. 100 Crushes reads almost like a diary, as if Lim is inviting us to come along on their journey to discover what it means to be butch, femme, binary, non-binary, and, above all, a queer person of color in a world that centers and normalizes whiteness.

Dusty: An Intimate Portrait of a Musical Legend by Karen Bartlett (Lesser Gods, May 16, 2017)

Singer Dusty Springfield was a cultural icon of the 1960s, and not only for her soulful pop sound and flamboyant performances. Springfield was the first female entertainer to publicly come out as bisexual (an admission that was nearly unheard of at the time) and was an anti-racism activist (having been deported from South Africa for refusing to play segregated audiences during apartheid). In Dusty: An Intimate Portrait of a Musical Legend, Karen Bartlett cracks open the shiny persona that Springfield cultivated on stage to take a closer look at Springfield’s inner life, and the struggles she encountered while coming to terms with her sexuality. Dusty: An Intimate Portrait of a Musical Legend combines Bartlett’s meticulous research with new interviews with Dusty’s friends, lovers, employees, and confidants. If you’re looking to brush up on your LGBT history this Pride (or just love a good story), this is the perfect place to start.

Books to Look Forward To Later in 2017:

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon (Akashic Books, October 3, 2017)

Aster has known no life other than the HSS Matilda, a ship that has spent generations carrying the last of humanity to a mythical “Promised Land.” Her dark skin marks her as a sharecropper, the lowest of the low. Add in obsessiveness and a reclusive tendency, and Aster is considered a freak at best, inhuman at worst. Is there a way out of this impossible life? The answer, Aster finds, may lie in the past of her mother, who died from suicide over twenty years before. For a science-fiction novel full of starships and faraway planets, An Unkindness of Ghosts is unflinchingly real. Solomon says that the inspiration for An Unkindness of Ghosts was the question, “How do I go on?”, a peek into the ways in which oppressed people survive and thrive against all odds. World-building has been called Solomon’s main strength in An Unkindness of Ghosts, but it’s hard to pick out any one facet of the book as the best. Solomon’s writing is lush and heavy with layered meaning, but the prose never weighs down the plot or keeps it from racing onward. Like Solomon themself, the protagonist, Aster, is a queer, intersex, neurodivergent person of color, giving this book crucial #OwnVoices representation. In addition, the cover for this book should be nominated for “Most Gorgeous Cover of All Time.” All other covers can go home.

Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story by Sonia Patel (Cinco Puntos Press, September 12, 2017)

Sonia Patel made a splash last year with her debut young adult novel, Rani Patel in Full Effect, which hit eight different “Best Books of 2016” lists and was a finalist for an ALA Morris Award. Now, she’s back with Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story, the transgender, Gujarati Indian Romeo and Juliet of your dreams. Jaya, a seventeen-year-old trans boy, comes from a wealthy family who is rich in money, privilege, and secrets. On the opposite side of the tracks, Rasa comes from a poor family, raised by a single mother who cares less about her children than the endless parade of men she uses and loses. When their two worlds collide, Jaya and Rasa find that they just might be the family they were always looking for. No one writes teenagers quite like Sonia Patel. By day, Patel is a practicing child psychologist, and her background shows: in her writing, she deftly navigates both trauma and healing to create a startlingly real portrait of mental health. Preorder this book now, so you have it right away when it publishes in September.

The Collected Neil the Horse by Katherine Collins (Conundrum Press, October 10, 2017)

The Neil the Horse comic ran for nearly thirteen years in Canadian newspapers, making author and illustrator Katherine Collins a bit of a legend. Every issue and comic strip are compiled for the first time in The Collected Neil the Horse. This is comics like you’ve never seen them before; not just memorable characters going on wacky adventures, but a completely innovative mélange of forms reminiscent of the multiplicity of vaudeville, from crossword puzzles to joke pages and more. The characters spontaneously burst into song and dance, and each comic in the collection comes with sheet music, because Collins isn’t just an artist, she’s a composer and a low-key genius. While the comics don’t technically feature any queer characters, they’re campy, fun, and full of musical theater, all written by Collins, a trans woman, which is just another reminder how creative the LGBT community is.

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OLIO and Sweat Are Pulitzer Prize Winners

Even if you’re not an arts or literature aficionado, it’s likely you’ve heard of a little old prize called the Pulitzer. Going into its 101st year, the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced on April 10, and two Consortium authors received this incredible honor!

OLIO by Tyehimba Jess won in the poetry category, “For a distinctive work that melds performance art with the deeper art of poetry to explore collective memory and challenge contemporary notions of race and identity.” Though the Pulitzer is always an honor, it’s really no surprise, as earlier this year OLIO was named a finalist for the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, the 2017 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, and the 2017 Kingsley Tufts Poetry AwardOLIO’s win is a major milestone for Wave Books, with this being the first time a title from Wave Books has earned a Pulitzer Prize. As Matthew Zapruder, Editor-at-Large at Wave Books notes, “We are thrilled for Tyehimba, and truly honored to be his publisher. This feels like a victory for the entire independent publishing ecosystem, which supports exceptional artists like Tyehimba Jess and smaller presses like Wave Books, so we can continue to do this work and share it with readers.” OLIO is truly a title in a league of its own, a three-hundred page poetic masterpiece that weaves sonnet and song to examine the lives of the mostly unrecorded African American performers directly before and after the Civil War to WWI. Congratulations to Wave Books on their stunning first Pulitzer Prize winner!

Sweat by Lynn Nottage won the Pulitzer Prize in the drama category, “For a nuanced yet powerful drama that reminds audiences of the stacked deck still facing workers searching for the American dream.” As the first female playwright to win the Pulitzer Prize in Drama twice (Ruined won in 2009), Nottage gives a new meaning to breaking the glass ceiling. With Sweat, she crafts a tragedy about the working class of Reading, Pennsylvania. In the words of Charles Isherwood in the New York Times “From first moments to last, this compassionate but clear-eyed play throbs with heartfelt life, with characters as complicated as any you’ll encounter at the theater today, and with a nifty ticking time bomb of a plot. That the people onstage are middle-class or lower-middle-class folks — too rarely given ample time on American stages — makes the play all the more vital a contribution to contemporary drama. . . . If I had pompoms, I’d be waving them now.” Congratulations to Theatre Communications Group!

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Thirteen Essential Poetry Collections Publishing During National Poetry Month

When thinking of social justice work and activist writing, nonfiction is likely the first place your mind goes. Since its invention, however, poetry has been used to produce just as (if not more) political work in powerful turns-of-phrase and lyrical poignancy. From spoken word to page poetry to rap, the diversity of voices coming through modern poetry is a beacon of light in a country divided.

National Poetry Month is always a great excuse to dust off all of your favorite old collections, but this year, why not try something new? We’ve compiled a list of thirteen poetry collections coming out this April, with an emphasis on poets of color, trans poets, immigrant poets, and other marginalized voices we should be listening to now more than ever. Give one (or all of them) a try—you might just find something you never knew you needed.

Bright Advent by Robert Strong (White Pine Press, April 11, 2017)

If you’ve memorized every line to The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter but long for a more nuanced, progressive discussion of colonial narratives, this is the poetry collection you’ve been waiting for. Strong’s work brings Puritan America into the twentieth century, melding archival texts with a contemporary tone. This collection creates a dialogue around Christian conversion of the indigenous peoples of North America, looking specifically at the relationship between the Massachusett man John Sassamon and the Puritan missionary John Eliot. Strong’s poetry feels at once intensely academic and incredibly accessible.


Hard Child
by Natalie Shapero (Copper Canyon Press, April 11, 2017)

Full of laugh-out-loud bleakness and self-deprecation, Hard Child is poetry for millennials. Shapero isn’t afraid to get intensely personal as she picks apart the territory of newfound motherhood and leaving her 20s behind. In Hard Child, she expertly navigates the line between the relatable and the too-macabre. Her writing is compulsively readable, and uses gentle turn-of-phrase to build thought-provoking stanzas. In one of the most memorable and hilarious poems from Hard Child, Shapero shines a nihilistic light on personality quizzes that determine what dog or inanimate object the reader might be, saying, “Actually it’s ridiculous to opine on what kind / of a dog I would be, were I ever a dog, as I don’t / contain within me half enough life to power / a dog. I WOULD BE A DEAD DOG, THAT’S / WHAT KIND.”

In Memory of An Angel by David Shapiro (City Lights Publishers, April 11, 2017)

David Shapiro’s poetry carries with it the tone of the New York School of poets, the generation of authors who came of age in the mid-60s and 70s and were influenced both by the Beatniks of the previous generation and the surrealist movement of their visual art peers. In Memory of An Angel balances avant-garde tributes to post-modernism with retrospectives on childhood and fatherhood. There’s a surprisingly heartfelt undercurrent through all of these poems, making you wonder if this book is, perhaps, one long love poem. With a fifty-year career under his belt, Shapiro’s writing has both shaped and been shaped by decades of poets, and he’s considered something of a maestro. In Memory of An Angel is his first collection in fifteen years, so get on it.

mary wants to be a superwoman by erica lewis (Third Man Books, April 4, 2017)

mary wants to be a superwoman pays homage to the works of Stevie Wonder and the power of music to trigger certain emotions and memories. Each poem is titled after a line of a Stevie Wonder song, and while the poems aren’t directly about the songs, they’re inspired by them, written about lewis’s emotive responses and associations with listening to pop artists from her childhood. lewis’s writing puts the “stream” in stream of consciousness. Her words tumble over one another like river rapid, constantly tugging you forward into the next line, and the next, and the next. Don’t mistake her smooth flow for a lack of power though; the ease of her words only makes for a more potent punchline.

Of Mongrelitude by Julian Talamantez Brolaski (Wave Books, April 4, 2017)

Reading Brolaski is like reading the David Foster Wallace of poetry (or rather, the work of David Foster Wallace’s cooler, less-pretentious sibling). Brolaski (whose pronouns are xe/xir/xem) dumps Latin, pop culture, etymology, politics, and sex into the melting pot of the page, creating a new linguistic experiment. Xir poetry is the kind that demands to be read out loud, so you can chew on all of the gooey consonants and sticky vowels. References to the fourteenth century, words like “maiden” and “agog,” swirl in with contemporary criticisms of corporations and the gender binary. Of Mongrelitude is a poetry collection for a digital age, where memes, emojis, and abbreviations create new vernaculars on a daily basis. It’s poetry like you’ve never read poetry before.

Patient Zero by Tomás Q. Morín (Copper Canyon Press, April 4, 2017)

This collection brings a classic genre (the love poem or, more accurately, the lost-love poem) into a fresh and fanciful new light. Morín’s writing uses the mundane details of everyday life—from pretzels to geese to blues music—as a jumping off point for creating fascinating and philosophical worlds. In Patient Zero, Morín looks at love not only from the perspective of the lovers, but from the places and things that surround a life sick with heartbreak. Morín has an uncanny knack for painting a scene that is rarely seen in poetry. Once the scene is established, he uses clever wordplay to reveal layers upon layers of new meaning. It’s poetry that keeps you thinking, that makes you want to go back and re-read each line to untangle the puzzles that Morín dangles before you.

A People’s History of Chicago by Kevin Coval, foreword by Chance the Rapper (Haymarket Books, April 11, 2017)

You can’t be a fan of the Chicago poetry scene (or any poetry scene, for that matter) without knowing Kevin Coval. Founder of Louder Than a Bomb: The Chicago Youth Poetry Festival, the Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors, and a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, there’s no one better to write a history of the Windy City than Coval. The book contains seventy-seven poems, one for each of the seventy-seven neighborhoods of Chicago, from the perspective of those on the margins. A People’s History of Chicago centers the often-untold histories of the city’s workers, poor people, and people of color. Coval’s poems have the flow of rap verses, and you can practically hear the thumping bassline running just beneath his wordsIn case that wasn’t enough to woo you, the foreword was written by Chancellor Bennett, a.k.a. the one, the only Chance the Rapper. A poetry book endorsed by Lil’ Chano himself? You know it’s gonna be good.


a place called No Homeland
by Kai Cheng Thom (Arsenal Pulp Press, April 11, 2017)

a place called No Homeland takes the reader on a journey through memory and mythos to draw new maps of gender, race, sexuality, and violence. Stemming from her experiences as a Chinese-Canadian trans woman, Thom uses a characteristic lyricism (whose cadence is drawn from a strong spoken-word influence) to unpack complex ideas of what exactly “home” is, particularly in queer and diasporic communities. If Thom’s name sounds familiar, it might be because her work has been published on Everyday Feminism, Buzzfeed, xoJane, and other intersectional feminist-forward corners of the internet. Thom isn’t just a poet; she’s also an essayist, a novelist, a performer, and, in general, a verified Superwoman. She’s a rising star to watch, and there’s no better starting place than a place called No Homeland.

Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us by Noah Wareness (Biblioasis, April 11, 2017)

If you’ve ever wished that Tim Burton had directed an uncanny-valley version of The Velveteen Rabbit, this is the poetry book for you. Using The Velveteen Rabbit as a jumping off point, Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us is a collection of twenty-six poems and the unbelievably weird happenings that link them. Noah Wareness’s writing is grim, gripping, and more than a little creepy in all the right ways. Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us is a trippy philosophical exploration that feels less like reading a book and more like walking right out of reality and into someone’s dreamscape. It’s a delicious celebration of loss, vertigo, and wonder that’s sure to give you goosebumps.

Reaper by Jill McDonough (Alice James Books, April 11, 2017)
If you’re looking for political poetry, stop right here. Jill McDonough’s Reaper zooms in on America’s expanding drone program and the ever-blurring line of man and machine. McDonough examines the distancing of culpability and repercussions when there’s a computer screen and a continent between you and the dead. This is not a happy book; it’s a book to make you think, to shine a light on the darker side of American politics, and the warfare we often pretend isn’t happening. She swaps out flowery imagery for repetition of sparse, to-the point poetry that hammers home her message. McDonough’s writing is gritty and unapologetic, refusing to let even the reader off the hook. It never feels like an attack, though. Instead, McDonough is simply insisting that we look at the whole picture, not just the pretty, easy parts.

A Sand Book by Ariana Reines (Fence Books, April 11, 2017)

Reines’s work is lyrical and painfully relatable, her work resonating with a generational experience in lines like “Smoking crack after yoga / Swallowing vitamins with wine.” Speaking to Reines’s cultural relevance, Lena Dunham is one of the poet’s biggest fans, having posted multiple passages of Reines’s previous books on Instagram and that her “poems sing to my whole body.” Reines is also an accomplished playwright, and her scriptwriting talents bleed into her poetry, giving her verses a conversational quality and a natural flow.

The Trembling Answers by Craig Morgan Teicher (BOA Editions, April 11, 2017)

Teicher’s poems are largely confessional and autobiographical, and The Trembling Answers is no exception; this particular volume deals with explorations of family and fatherhood, and the role his poetry plays across each. One of Teicher’s great strengths is in his honesty. He frequently reveals his flaws and mistakes to the reader, laying bare intimate details about his wife, his son, and his marriage to illustrate his very humanity. His writing is full of lists and repetition, as if Teicher is searching for answers in real-time with the reader. Each poem is meaty and sprawling, providing plenty of space for interpretation and re-interpretation.

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen (BOA Editions, April 11, 2017)

Chen Chen’s work is versatile, skillfully adapting to different forms and functions; on one page, you’ll find a traditional poem, lines grouped together in rhythmic couplets. On another, lines run together into paragraphs, blurring the difference between poetry and prose. Chen Chen’s poems are odes and elegies, considerations of everyday life. In When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, Chen Chen muses his way through the idea of inheritance (specifically, what it means to inherit things like love and family) at the center of his identity as a queer Chinese-American immigrant. American Book Award Winner Jericho Brown gave When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities his seal of approval in his introduction to the book. NPR even named this book “Poetry to Pay Attention To” in their 2017 book preview on February 8, calling it “deeply serious and moving.” Plus, who could say no to such a catchy title?

Find out where to buy these great collections and more here on the Consortium website!

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11 Essential Women to Read for International Women’s Day (and Beyond)

Happy Women’s History Month to all the incredible women who have made our national story, and to all the innovative women who are continuing to make our story. In celebration, here is a list of eleven women novelists, comic and graphic artists, essayists, and activists who are creating heartrending, essential stories that you can read now. Pro tip: many of them have books coming out this year, so you can dig into their backlist titles AND have something hopeful to read in 2017.

  1. Rebecca Solnit: Dubbed the “Philosopher Queen” by ELLE Magazine, Rebecca Solnit solnitwrites approachable, intelligent pieces on motherhood, “mansplaining” (a term she coined), politics, gender binaries, and more. Her indie bestselling title Men Explain Things To Me is also now available in Spanish as Los hombres me explican cosas. In the floodbreak of the 2016 election, her title Hope in the Dark resonated with folks across the country, building to the March 7, 2017 publication of The Mother of All Questions, where she writes lines such as “Liberation is always in part a storytelling process: breaking stories, breaking silences, making new stories. A free person tells her own story. A valued person lives in a society in which her story has a place.”
  2. davisAngela Davis: Davis has been woke before anyone knew what that meant, and she’s still writing about it. With decades of thoughtful activism under her belt, Angela Davis has a depth of experience so essential for today’s people when it comes to our dialogue: race, gender, prison rights. If this doesn’t have you interested, read this: in 1969, President Ronald Reagan requested that she be barred from teaching at any university in the State of California because of her membership with the Communist Party. She was part of the Civil Rights Movement and tied to the Black Panther Party. Her Freedom Is A Constant Struggle hit multiple indie bestseller lists in 2016, but you can’t stop there—dig into her older titles, and you’ll find gold: The Meaning of Freedom and Other Difficult Dialogues is a collection of her speeches on racism, community, freedom, and politics, and she’s a bit of a Frederick Douglass expert, having penned additional essays for an expanded version of Douglass’s masterpiece: Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written By Himself.
  3. Arundhati Roy: If you don’t know this incredible novelist for her, well, novels, you’re arundhati-roylikely not paying attention. But as Signature noted in a long piece in early February, instead of riding on her fame for her first novel, The God of Small Things, in the last four years, Roy has become something of a political activist, writing about “power and powerlessness,” including India’s 1998 nuclear testing and its efforts to become a nuclear superpower, the American bombing of Afghanistan, fascism in India, and her ponderings on meeting with Edward Snowden. Before grabbing a copy of her new novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, read her searing works of nonfiction: Capitalism: A Ghost Story, Field Notes on Democracy, The End of Imagination, and Things That Can and Cannot Be Said. In her newest title available April 11, The Doctor and the Saint, Roy strips down the cultural sainthood of Gandhi and examines some of the uncomfortable and controversial truths about the political thought and career of India’s most revered man.
  4. Valeria Luiselli: If you thought 2016 was rough, you have bookends of Valeria Luiselli to remind you of the goodness of 2015, and look forward to 2017. Mexican born Luiselli wowed almost everyone who read The Story of My Teeth in 2015. The New York Times called her story of the traveling auctioneer Gustavo (Highway) Sánchez Sánchez “deeply playful,” and her novel addressed ideas about art and objects, even tmhieas the hilarity of Highway’s tooth collection of the famous (Plato, Petrarch, and Virginia Woolf included) ensued. But in 2017, Luiselli is taking on immigration, and there’s nothing fictional about this. Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions is available starting March 28, and is Luiselli’s record of conversations with undocumented Latin-American children facing deportation. This essential book humanizes these young migrants and highlights the contradictions of the American Dream, and the fear and racism so prevalent for the people who try to make this their home. More Luiselli titles to add to your list include Faces in the Crowd and Sidewalks.
  5. gabrielle-bellGabrielle Bell: “Quiet, pensive cartoonist creates fantastic, heartrending cartoons that stun world” could be the headline for Bell’s artistic career so far. Bell grew up in an isolated rural community, and then took art classes at community colleges, working dead-end retail jobs while she started her career as a cartoonist. Her titles include The Voyeurs, Truth Is Fragmentary, and her first full-length graphic memoir Everything Is Flammable publishing April 18 from Uncivilized Books. Whether you’re into graphic novels or not, make time for Everything is Flammable: spanning a single year, Bell tells the story of returning from New York to her childhood home in rural Northern California to help her mother put her home and life back together. In the narrative, Bell keeps acknowledging her issues with anxiety, financial hardships, memories of a semi-feral childhood, and her always tenuous relationship with her mother. Don’t take my word for it: Alison Bechdel (Fun Home) is also a fan: “Bell’s pen becomes a kind of laser, first illuminating the surface distractions of the world, then scorching them away to reveal a deeper reality that is almost too painful and too beautiful to bear.”
  6. Bae Suah: If you’re trying to diversify your reading list, look no further than this baesuahheavy hitting Korean writer, who has recently been translated into English. In Korean, her name is “Suah Bae,” and she started writing stories as a hobby. The stories took on lives of their own, and now she’s been translated into English multiple times (thank goodness!). A Greater Music follows a young Korean writer as she evaluates her romance with her rough and tumble metalworker boyfriend, and her deep feelings for her past lover, a woman named M. Her most recent title, Recitation, explores the emigrant experience through the ideas of memory and personhood. Read more about Bae Suah in this interview from 1 Brooklyn with her rockstar translator Deborah Smith (who also translated Han Kang’s Man Booker Prize winning The Vegetarian), and stay alert for her collection of short stories, North Station, publishing from Open Letter this October.
  7. janemaiJane Mai: If chic comics, feminism, and Instagram game had a love child, it would probably be Jane Mai. Mai is a freelance illustrator and comics artist from Brooklyn, and her “autobio with a bite” See You Next Tuesday is relatable for any twenty-something female. She doesn’t just tell her own story. On May 16, her collaboration with An Nguyen and Novala Takemoto So Pretty/Very Rotten: Comics and Essays on Lolita Fashion and Cute Culture publishes, and you won’t find a better cultural critique in comic form.
  8. Carmen Boullosa: This Mexican writer is a literary heavenspowerhouse: poet, novelist, and playwright, Boullosa is the trifecta, and her work is more relevant than ever. Her first novel translated in English is Texas: The Great Theft, which reimagines the 1850 Mexican invasion of the United States (complete with colorful ranchers, cowboys, and dancehall girls). She views border history through distinctly Mexican eyes, which couldn’t be a more critical perspective in our current dialogue. Lucky for us, Boullosa is still writing. Her title Before is part revenge novel, part ghost story, and all coming-of-age. Her newest title Heavens on Earth publishes June 20, and beautifully challenges the primacy of recorded history, transcending the barriers of time through vivid, urgent prose.
  9. Sofia Samatar: Of all the writers on this list, Sofia Samatar could be the one whosesamatar college writing class you’d most like to take. This Somali-American professor and writer creates incredible fantasy worlds in her novels A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories, and her first collection of short stories, Tender, is out April 11 from Small Beer Press. When asked why she writes fantasy, Samatar had a lot to say, “I’m this person from a mixed background, you know, Somali and Swiss-German Mennonite, that you don’t see a lot of, and that it maybe encourages me to imagine other ways of being.” Cliff note: her fiction is replete with strong female characters.
  10. Bernice McFadden: Her latest novel, The Book of Harlan weaves a young musician’s bernicejourney through jazz, Harlem, Paris, and life in a Nazi concentration camp. Bernice McFadden won the NAACP Image Award for The Book of Harlan, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg in her oeuvre. The author of nine critically acclaimed novels (pro tip: get a copy of Gathering of Waters immediately), McFadden started out adult life thinking she wanted to work in fashion (obviously, she’s still got the style—check out her NAACP award photos). After years of bouncing around to different big-industry jobs, McFadden landed on a year of unemployment, which launched her love of writing, and the world is better for it. Loving Donovan, Nowhere Is a Place, and The Warmest December are more required reading from this lifetime storyteller.
  11. Ursula K. LeGuin: LeGuin deserves many awards for her 87 years of life, many for her writing, many for her informed, gracious perspective on current events, including a recent letter to the editor explaining the difference between science fiction and ursulaalternative facts, which Entertainment Weekly covered in February. Since she started writing, LeGuin has been bucking the male stereotypes of the fantasy world, and winning awards doing it (including multiple Hugo awards, a Newberry Medal, a PEN award, a World Fantasy Award, and a National Book Award). The New Yorker covered her life and work in an in-depth feature last October, titled “The Fantastic Ursula K. LeGuin.” For a deep reading experience of LeGuin, check out Words Are My Matter: Writings about Life and Books, 2000-2016, with a Journal of a Writer’s Week.

 

Three More Books You Actually Can’t Miss for WHM:

Rad American Women A-Z: A new classic, Rad American Women A-Z has spent time on the New York Times Bestseller list, been excerpted on Buzzfeed, inspired Halloween costumes, and is genuinely loved by librarians nationwide. If you don’t have a copy (or know another female who doesn’t) it’s high time you picked up a copy of this.

The Crunk Feminist Collection:  From prison abolition, to beauty parlor politics, to Rihanna, The Crunk Feminist Collection brings essays from the Crunk Feminist Collective together in print for the first time. With essays like “Sex and Power in the Black Church” and “Dating with a Doctorate (She Got a Big Ego?)” there’s very little that the Crunk Feminists won’t cover. Self-described as “critical homegirls,” the authors tackle life stuck between loving hip hop and ratchet culture while hating patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism. This published in January, so get your copy now!

And the Spirit Moved Them: The Lost History of America’s First Feminists: Written by activist Helen LaKelly Hunt, this takes modern feminism back to its roots before the suffragettes. Before Seneca Falls, black and white women joined forces at the 1837 Anti-Slavery Convention in the first instance of political organizing by American women, for American women. These women challenged slavery and the patriarchy, and they created a blueprint for today’s intersectional feminism. With a foreword by the legendary Cornel West, this book is sure to make waves, and remind us where we’re coming from.

 

 

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Rebecca Solnit Trilogy Makes Required Women’s History Month Reading

Rebecca Solnit, a long-time activist and author, burst into public consciousness in 2008 by coining the term “mansplaining” in an essay about men’s tendencies to interrupt women with a patronizing “well, actually. . .” The essay was originally published in Men Explain Things to Me. With its conversational tone and ability to make feminist theory accessible and hip, the book quickly became required reading for women everywhere. After the 2016 election, another Solnit title resurfaced in relevance: Hope in the Dark offered those frustrated and anxious about the election results a guide to persevering in the face of oppression. The book, an updated version of the one originally printed during the Bush Administration, saw a massive spike in sales, and by February 9, 2017 had hit a record six regional bestseller lists.

With her monthly Harpers column winning the 2017 Ellie Award in the “Columns and Commentary” category on February 7, and an ELLE Magazine profile dubbing her “the philosopher queen” (on stands now!), Solnit has continued to prove that the feminist movement is far from losing steam. If that wasn’t enough, Men Explain Things to Me (now available in Spanish as Los hombres me explican cosas) also hit the ABA Bestseller list on February 9, coming in at #34 in the Trade Paperback Nonfiction category for the ninth week.

The Women’s Marches internationally drew crowds totaling almost 5 billion, and the rights, tenacity, and history of women are at the forefront of national and international minds. Solnit has impeccable timing as her third book, The Mother of All Questions, hits stands March 7.

Stay tuned to hear Rebecca Solnit on Democracy Now! March 24 or March 28!

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William Grill’s Wolves of Currumpaw Wins Ragazzi Award in Nonfiction

In the news flood of politics, violence, and human rights struggles filling our days and minds, what could we possibly have to learn from one of the founding pioneers of the Boy Scouts, Ernest Thomas Seton? Quite a lot, including lessons on compassion and caring for each other and our wild world, and the beautiful necessity of learning from our mistakes.

The Bologna Ragazzi Award, one of the most prestigious children’s international book awards, has just thrown its weight behind a quintessentially American book that tells the story of Ernest Thomas Seton’s life- changing meetings with a certain wolf. The Wolves of Currumpaw, a modern illustrated retelling of Seton’s classic story “Lobo, The King of Currumpaw,” is by the young artist/writer William Grill and was announced as the winner of the Bologna Ragazzi Award for nonfiction on February 16, with the awards ceremony to follow during the Bologna Children’s Book Fair from April 3-6.  The Wolves offers a story of young Seton exploiting the wilderness of the American West for his own gain, until a certain wolf tragically teaches Seton that the wildness has heart, and part of Seton’s job is to protect it.

This beautiful picture book is not Grill’s first headline-maker: his 2014 title Shackleton’s Journey was a New York Times Best Illustrated Book and also made Grill the youngest winner since 1960 of the UK’s Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration (the equivalent to the Caldecott Medal in the US).

The Wolves of Currumpaw has garnered its own following, including a Junior Library Guild selection, a Guardian Best Children‘s Book 2016 selection, and rave reviews in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times Book Review, and Brain Pickings, where Maria Popova said of the book, ” Grill tells the story without a sentimental gloss over the jarring cruelty that was a matter of course in the Old West. But what emerges is an essential reminder that we can’t reasonably judge one era by the moral standards of another; that, above all, so many of our ethical principles have emerged from the disquietude of their opposite—a sentiment echoed in the contrast between Grill’s soft, sensitive illustrations and the brutality of the killings, both by the wolves and of the wolves.”

There you have it, folks: a lesson from Ernest Thomas Seaton that, the Bologna Ragazzi committee agrees, more than stands the test of time.

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