American Writers Festival Ultimate Reading List

American Writers Festival Reading List

The ultimate reading list for the inaugural American Writers Festival

This Sunday, May 15 is the inaugural American Writers Festival! Coinciding with our fifth anniversary, more than 70 writers from around the country will converge in downtown Chicago to celebrate the written word. Spread across five stages at the Chicago Cultural Center and American Writers Museum, the Festival features writers from all genres.

Since we love books, and we have a feeling you do too, we put together the ultimate American Writers Festival reading list. Many of these books will be available for purchase on site the day of the Festival from our bookselling partner Seminary Co-op Bookstores, though not all of them will be. Some of the books featured are new releases, some older classics. For some writers, this is their first book and for others it is one of many. But no matter what, taken together these books represent the breadth and power of American writing.

And all these writers will be at the American Writers Festival! Click on the links to learn more about the writers and their respective events. See the full Festival schedule here.


Aaron Slater, Illustrator book cover

Aaron Slater, Illustrator by Andrea Beaty

Andrea Beaty and Betsy Bird
11:00 a.m.
S. Leigh Pierson and Douglas R. Conant Readers Hall
American Writers Museum


The Air You Breathe book cover

The Air You Breathe by Frances de Pontes Peebles

Panel Discussion: Crossing Boundaries
2:30 p.m.
Millennium Park Room
Chicago Cultural Center


Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution book cover

Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal

Elie Mystal and Ivy Wilson
4:30 p.m.
Sidney R. Yates Gallery
Chicago Cultural Center


Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire and Revolution in the Borderlands book cover

Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire and Revolution in the Borderlands by Kelly Lytle Hernández

Kelly Lytle Hernández and Michael Zapata
3:00 p.m.
G.A.R. Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


Best Worst American book cover

Best Worst American by Juan Martinez

Panel Discussion: Crossing Boundaries
2:30 p.m.
Millennium Park Room
Chicago Cultural Center

Panel Discussion: Small Odysseys: Selected Shorts Presents 35 New Short Stories
4:30 p.m.
Preston Bradley Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


Beyond Banned Books: Defending Intellectual Freedom Through Your Library book cover

Beyond Banned Books: Defending Intellectual Freedom Through Your Library by Kristin Pekoll

The Slippery Slope of Censorship
12:30 p.m.
Millennium Park Room
Chicago Cultural Center


The Billboard book cover

The Billboard by Natalie Y. Moore

Natalie Y. Moore and J. Nicole Brooks
1:30 p.m.
Millennium Park Room
Chicago Cultural Center


Black Pulp: Genre Fiction in the Shadow of Jim Crow book cover

Black Pulp: Genre Fiction in the Shadow of Jim Crow by Brooks E. Hefner

Brooks E. Hefner and Evan F. Moore
4:00 p.m.
G.A.R. Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


Blue Hallelujahs book cover

Blue Hallelujahs by Cynthia Manick

Panel Discussion: The Future of Black: Afrofuturism, Black Comics, and Superhero Poetry
2:00 p.m.
G.A.R. Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


The Book Woman's Daughter book cover

The Book Woman’s Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson

Kim Michele Richardson
3:00 p.m.
Virtual Event
American Writers Museum YouTube


Burn Down, Rise Up book cover

Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado

Vincent Tirado and Andrew Davis
3:00 p.m.
S. Leigh Pierson and Douglas R. Conant Readers Hall
American Writers Museum


Chime book cover

Chime by Len Lawson

Panel Discussion: The Future of Black: Afrofuturism, Black Comics, and Superhero Poetry
2:00 p.m.
G.A.R. Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


The Committed book cover

The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Maxine Hong Kingston and Viet Thanh Nguyen
9:00 a.m.
Virtual Event
American Writers Museum YouTube


The Displaced Children of Displaced Children book cover

The Displaced Children of Displaced Children by Faisal Mohyuddin

Panel Discussion: Wherever I’m At: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry
5:30 p.m.
Millennium Park Room
Chicago Cultural Center


Duende: Poems, 1966-Now book cover

Duende: Poems, 1966-Now by Quincy Troupe

Quincy Troupe and Michael Warr
11:30 a.m.
Millennium Park Room
Chicago Cultural Center


False Bingo by Jac Jemc

False Bingo by Jac Jemc

Panel Discussion: Crossing Boundaries
2:30 p.m.
Millennium Park Room
Chicago Cultural Center

Panel Discussion: Small Odysseys: Selected Shorts Presents 35 New Short Stories
4:30 p.m.
Preston Bradley Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


Frederick Douglass: Speeches and Writings book cover

Frederick Douglass: Speeches and Writings edited by David W. Blight

David W. Blight and Keidrick Roy
1:30 p.m.
Sidney R. Yates Gallery
Chicago Cultural Center


The Future of Black: Afrofuturism, Black Comics, and Superhero Poetry book cover

The Future of Black: Afrofuturism, Black Comics, and Superhero Poetry edited by Len Lawson, Cynthia Manick, and Gary Jackson

Panel Discussion: The Future of Black: Afrofuturism, Black Comics, and Superhero Poetry
2:00 p.m.
G.A.R. Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


Game Misconduct: Hockey's Toxic Culture and How to Fix It book cover

Game Misconduct: Hockey’s Toxic Culture and How to Fix It by Evan F. Moore and Jashvina Shah

Jabari Asim and Evan F. Moore
11:30 a.m.
Sidney R. Yates Gallery
Chicago Cultural Center

Brooks E. Hefner and Evan F. Moore
4:00 p.m.
G.A.R. Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


Goliath book cover

Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi

Tochi Onyebuchi and Arionne Nettles
3:30 p.m.
Preston Bradley Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


The Great Believers book cover

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

Jocelyn Nicole Johnson and Rebecca Makkai
11:30 a.m.
Preston Bradley Hall
Chicago Cultural Center

Panel Discussion: Growing Up Chicago
4:30 p.m.
Millennium Park Room
Chicago Cultural Center


Growing Up Chicago book cover

Growing Up Chicago edited by Lauren DeJulio Bell, Roxanne Pilat, and David Schaafsma

Panel Discussion: Growing Up Chicago
4:30 p.m.
Millennium Park Room
Chicago Cultural Center


The House of Broken Angels book cover

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

Panel Discussion: Small Odysseys: Selected Shorts Presents 35 New Short Stories
4:30 p.m.
Preston Bradley Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


History Comics: The Stonewall Riots: Making a Stand for LGBTQ Rights book cover

History Comics: The Stonewall Riots: Making a Stand for LGBTQ Rights by Archie Bongiovanni

Archie Bongiovanni and Andrew Davis
1:00 p.m.
S. Leigh Pierson and Douglas R. Conant Readers Hall
American Writers Museum


Human Cicada book cover

Human Cicada by Carlos Cumpián

Panel Discussion: Wherever I’m At: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry
5:30 p.m.
Millennium Park Room
Chicago Cultural Center


Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists book cover

Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists by Donna Seaman

Elizabeth Nunez and Donna Seaman
1:30 p.m.
Preston Bradley Hall
Chicago Cultural Center

Sara Paretsky and Donna Seaman
5:30 p.m.
S. Leigh Pierson and Douglas R. Conant Readers Hall
American Writers Museum


The Incomplete Book of Running book cover

The Incomplete Book of Running by Peter Sagal

Panel Discussion: Writing American Comedy
5:30 p.m.
Sidney R. Yates Gallery
Chicago Cultural Center


I Offer My Heart as a Target / Ofrezco mi corazón como una diana book cover

I Offer My Heart as a Target / Ofrezco mi corazón como una diana by Johanny Vázquez Paz

Panel Discussion: Wherever I’m At: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry
5:30 p.m.
Millennium Park Room
Chicago Cultural Center


Ironheart comics by Dr. Eve L. Ewing

Ashley C. Ford and Dr. Eve L. Ewing
12:30 p.m.
Preston Bradley Hall
Chicago Cultural Center

Panel Discussion: The Future of Black: Afrofuturism, Black Comics, and Superhero Poetry
2:00 p.m.
G.A.R. Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


The Kaiju Preservation Society book cover

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

John Scalzi and Michi Trota
2:30 p.m.
Preston Bradley Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took on a World at War book cover

Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took on a World at War by Deborah Cohen

Deborah Cohen
11:00 a.m.
G.A.R. Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


Let It Die Hungry book cover

Let It Die Hungry by Caits Meissner

PEN America: The Sentences That Create Us
1:00 p.m.
G.A.R. Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


Long Road to the Circus book cover

Long Road to the Circus by Betsy Bird

Andrea Beaty and Betsy Bird
11:00 a.m.
S. Leigh Pierson and Douglas R. Conant Readers Hall
American Writers Museum


The Lost Book of Adana Moreau book cover

The Lost Book of Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata

Kelly Lytle Hernández and Michael Zapata
3:00 p.m.
G.A.R. Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


Marvel and a Wonder book cover

Marvel and A Wonder by Joe Meno

Panel Discussion: Small Odysseys: Selected Shorts Presents 35 New Short Stories
4:30 p.m.
Preston Bradley Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


The Marvellers book cover

The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton

Dhonielle Clayton and Jacqueline Woodson
2:30 p.m.
Sidney R. Yates Gallery
Chicago Cultural Center


Maxine Hong Kingston: The Woman Warrior, China Men, Tripmaster Monkey, Other Writings

Maxine Hong Kingston: The Woman Warrior, China Men, Tripmaster Monkey, Other Writings edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Maxine Hong Kingston and Viet Thanh Nguyen
9:00 a.m.
Virtual Event
American Writers Museum YouTube


The Most Haunted House in America book cover

The Most Haunted House in America by Jarrett Dapier

The Slippery Slope of Censorship
12:30 p.m.
Millennium Park Room
Chicago Cultural Center


Music to My Years: A Mixtape Memoir of Growing Up and Standing Up book cover

Music to My Years: A Mixtape Memoir of Growing Up and Standing Up by Cristela Alonzo

Panel Discussion: Writing American Comedy
5:30 p.m.
Sidney R. Yates Gallery
Chicago Cultural Center


My Monticello book cover

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

Jocelyn Nicole Johnson and Rebecca Makkai
11:30 a.m.
Preston Bradley Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


My Seven Black Fathers: A Young Activist's Memoir of Race, Family, and the Mentors Who Made Him Whole book cover

My Seven Black Fathers: A Young Activist’s Memoir of Race, Family, and the Mentors Who Made Him Whole by Will Jawando

Will Jawando and Ambassador Carolyn Curiel
5:30 p.m.
Preston Bradley Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


Nothing Is Wrong and Here Is Why: Essays book cover

Nothing Is Wrong and Here Is Why: Essays by Alexandra Petri

Panel Discussion: Writing American Comedy
5:30 p.m.
Sidney R. Yates Gallery
Chicago Cultural Center


Now Lila Knows book cover

Now Lila Knows by Elizabeth Nunez

Elizabeth Nunez and Donna Seaman
1:30 p.m.
Preston Bradley Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin book cover

Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin by Michael Warr

Quincy Troupe and Michael Warr
11:30 a.m.
Millennium Park Room
Chicago Cultural Center


The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Dead Writer Drama live podcast taping
4:00 p.m.
S. Leigh Pierson and Douglas R. Conant Readers Hall
American Writers Museum


Overboard book cover

Overboard by Sara Paretsky

Sara Paretsky and Donna Seaman
5:30 p.m.
S. Leigh Pierson and Douglas R. Conant Readers Hall
American Writers Museum


Poet Warrior: A Memoir book cover

Poet Warrior: A Memoir by Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo and Marie Arana
10:15 a.m.
Sidney R. Yates Gallery
Chicago Cultural Center


Radical Vision: A Biography of Lorraine Hansberry book cover

Radical Vision: A Biography of Lorraine Hansberry by Soyica Diggs Colbert

Dead Writer Drama live podcast taping
4:00 p.m.
S. Leigh Pierson and Douglas R. Conant Readers Hall
American Writers Museum


Refuse to Disappear book cover

Refuse to Disappear by Tara Betts

Panel Discussion: The Future of Black: Afrofuturism, Black Comics, and Superhero Poetry
2:00 p.m.
G.A.R. Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


Seen and Unseen: Technology, Social Media, and the Fight for Racial Justice book cover

Seen and Unseen: Technology, Social Media, and the Fight for Racial Justice by Marc Lamont Hill and Todd Brewster

Marc Lamont Hill, Todd Brewster, and Catherine Adel West
3:30 p.m.
Sidney R. Yates Gallery
Chicago Cultural Center


The Sentences that Create Us: Crafting A Writer's Life in Prison book cover

The Sentences that Create Us: Crafting A Writer’s Life in Prison edited by Caits Meissner

PEN America: The Sentences That Create Us
1:00 p.m.
G.A.R. Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


Silver, Sword, and Stone: Three Crucibles in the Latin American Story by Marie Arana

Silver, Sword, and Stone: Three Crucibles in the Latin American Story by Marie Arana

Joy Harjo and Marie Arana
10:15 a.m.
Sidney R. Yates Gallery
Chicago Cultural Center


Small Odysseys: Selected Shorts Presents 35 New Stories book cover

Small Odysseys: Selected Shorts Presents 35 New Stories edited by Hannah Tinti

Panel Discussion: Small Odysseys: Selected Shorts Presents 35 New Short Stories
4:30 p.m.
Preston Bradley Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


Somebody's Daughter: A Memoir book cover

Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir by Ashley C. Ford

Ashley C. Ford and Dr. Eve L. Ewing
12:30 p.m.
Preston Bradley Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation book cover

South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation by Imani Perry

Imani Perry and Dawn Turner
5:00 p.m.
G.A.R. Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


Survive the Dome book cover

Survive the Dome by Kosoko Jackson

Kosoko Jackson and Jacoby Cochran
2:00 p.m.
S. Leigh Pierson and Douglas R. Conant Readers Hall
American Writers Museum


Teaching Black History to White People book cover

Teaching Black History to White People by Leonard N. Moore

Leonard N. Moore
10:30 a.m.
Millennium Park Room
Chicago Cultural Center


Three Girls from Bronzeville: A Uniquely American Memoir of Race, Fate, and Sisterhood book cover

Three Girls from Bronzeville: A Uniquely American Memoir of Race, Fate, and Sisterhood by Dawn Turner

Imani Perry and Dawn Turner
5:00 p.m.
G.A.R. Hall
Chicago Cultural Center


The Two Lives of Sara book cover

The Two Lives of Sara by Catherine Adel West

Marc Lamont Hill, Todd Brewster, and Catherine Adel West
3:30 p.m.
Sidney R. Yates Gallery
Chicago Cultural Center


When Women Invented Television: The Untold Story of the Female Powerhouses Who Pioneered the Way We Watch Today book cover

When Women Invented Television: The Untold Story of the Female Powerhouses Who Pioneered the Way We Watch Today by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Dead Writer Drama live podcast taping
4:00 p.m.
S. Leigh Pierson and Douglas R. Conant Readers Hall
American Writers Museum


Wherever I'm At: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry book cover

Wherever I’m At: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry edited by Donald G. Evans and Robin Metz

Panel Discussion: Wherever I’m At: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry
5:30 p.m.
Millennium Park Room
Chicago Cultural Center


White Field, Black Sheep: A Lithuanian-American Life book cover

White Field, Black Sheep: A Lithuanian-American Life by Daiva Markelis

Panel Discussion: Growing Up Chicago
4:30 p.m.
Millennium Park Room
Chicago Cultural Center


The World Belonged to Us book cover

The World Belonged to Us by Jacqueline Woodson

Dhonielle Clayton and Jacqueline Woodson
2:30 p.m.
Sidney R. Yates Gallery
Chicago Cultural Center


Yonder book cover

Yonder by Jabari Asim

Jabari Asim and Evan F. Moore
11:30 a.m.
Sidney R. Yates Gallery
Chicago Cultural Center


You Are Not Alone book cover

You Are Not Alone by Alphabet Rockers

Alphabet Rockers
10:15 a.m.
S. Leigh Pierson and Douglas R. Conant Readers Hall
American Writers Museum


Your Legacy: A Bold Reclaiming of Our Enslaved History book cover

Your Legacy: A Bold Reclaiming of Our Enslaved History by Schele Williams

Schele Williams and Arionne Nettles
12:00 p.m.
S. Leigh Pierson and Douglas R. Conant Readers Hall
American Writers Museum


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