AWM Staff Picks: June

Reading Recommendations from the staff of the American Writers Museum.

We can’t recommend these books highly enough! Check back every month for more reading recommendations, from classics that we reread over and over to new favorites. If you’re looking for your next book, you came to the right place.

Our June staff picks are also available on, which benefits independent bookstores. We also strongly encourage you to support your local bookstore by ordering through them online directly. They need our help more than ever, and we need them to stick around.

Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas book cover

Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas

I just started this incredible book this week and am already flying through it. Before Night Falls is the autobiography of Reinaldo Arenas, a Cuban-born, openly gay writer who was exiled and fled to the U.S., only to eventually suffer from AIDS before committing suicide in 1990. Arenas writes of his own book, “I tell my truth like a Jew who has suffered from racism, a Russian who has been in the Gulag, or any human being who has eyes to see things as they are: I cry out:therefore I am.”

I am reading this book as research for this month’s upcoming episode of our podcast Nation of Writers, out June 30. I’ll be chatting with two writers and scholars who not only were influenced by Arenas’s writing, but knew him personally. Check out all our podcasts here and subscribe so you don’t miss when this exciting episode airs at the end of the month.

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut book cover

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

Breakfast of Champions was published in 1973, but it could have easily been written as a response to 2020. From social immobility in America to racism, from climate change to the many failures of our national prison system, Vonnegut approaches a range of important social causes through an approachable and relatable lens. The story follows two characters, Kilgore Trout and Dwayne Hoover, as their lives fatefully collide at an arts festival in Midland City, Ohio. Vonnegut’s dark satire and sharp wit always make me laugh out loud on one page and fill me with existential fear for the future on the next.

–Caroline, Intern

Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates

Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates

This collection of short stories was out of print for some time, but it is available again and well worth a read. Yates writes in an objective and insightful way, giving his characters all the complexities of the human experience in a down-to-earth feel. Perhaps more people would know Yates as the author of Revolutionary Road, however, this collection was published the year after that book and is considered by many as a masterwork of the short story form.

–Christopher, Director of Operations

Frida in America: The Creative Awakening of a Great Artist by Celia Stahr book cover

Frida in America: The Creative Awakening of a Great Artist by Celia Stahr

From the publisher: “Mexican artist Frida Kahlo adored adventure. In November, 1930, she was thrilled to realize her dream of traveling to the United States to live in San Francisco, Detroit, and New York. Still, leaving her family and her country for the first time was monumental…Frida in America is the first in-depth biography of these formative years spent in Gringolandia, a place Frida couldn’t always understand. But it’s precisely her feelings of being a stranger in a strange land that fueled her creative passions and an even stronger sense of Mexican identity. With vivid detail, Frida in America recreates the pivotal journey that made Senora Rivera the world famous Frida Kahlo.”

–Cristina, Guest Services & Operations Supervisor

Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg book cover

Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg

Beat Generation writers like Allen Ginsberg hold a special place in my heart. When your dad is a recovering hippie it sort of comes with the territory. I’ve always admired how they emerged from the fog of WWII and tried to make sense of it all in their writing. Not all of it is good, and much of it does not age well, but there is no denying that poems like “Howl” serve as both a protest against conformity and a celebration of life and humanity. In fact, City Lights publisher and fellow poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who passed away just months ago, was arrested and charged with obscenity for printing this book. He was later found not guilty and the case is a landmark ruling against censorship. This book is a great read for Pride Month, but also for any other time when you feel like challenging the status quo.

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator

How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones book cover

How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

I really love this book, it is so good. I read it on a vacation and started crying at the airport before I even got on my plane. I’ll let the publisher describe it real quick: “Haunted and haunting, How We Fight for Our Lives is a stunning coming-of-age memoir about a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears.” It is timely, important, and just incredibly well-written. We had the pleasure of hosting Saeed Jones for a program back in October 2019 when this memoir came out. You can watch the full program here or listen to a condensed version on our podcast here. You can also read our Q&A with Jones, but really we suggest you snag a copy of this book and read that!

–Ari, Data Operations Coordinator

Kindred by Octavia Butler book cover

Kindred by Octavia Butler

From the publisher: “The visionary author’s masterpiece pulls us–along with her Black female hero–through time to face the horrors of slavery and explore the impacts of racism, sexism, and white supremacy then and now. Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.”

–Ari, Data Operations Coordinator

Love & Other Natural Disasters by Misa Sugiura

Love & Other Natural Disasters by Misa Sugiura

We’re big fans of Misa Sugiura here at the American Writers Museum. Not only is she one of 30 featured writers in our special exhibit My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today, but she was also just a guest on the recent episode of Nation of Writers in which we chatted about the brilliance and legacy of Hisaye Yamamoto. Oh yeah, and on top of that she is a fantastic writer! Her new book Love & Other Natural Disasters is out now and is a “delightfully disastrous queer YA rom-com” about a quartet of teenage love that is an ideal read for the summer months. As Kirkus Reviews puts it, Love & Other Natural Disasters is a “laugh-out-loud, tender, and wholly satisfying read.”

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris book cover

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

This book has recently landed on numerous “must-read” and “best of the year” lists and with good reason. As the description reads, “urgent, propulsive, and sharp as a knife, The Other Black Girl is an electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.” I am also especially excited about this book because Zakiya Dalila Harris is not only a great writer, but a great podcast host too! Zakiya co-hosts our fun series Dead Writer Drama with fellow writer Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. The pair share the gossip and secrets of writers you know well, or at least think you know well. Our next episode comes out this month about James Baldwin with guest Robert Jones, Jr.

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

This is another book that I’ve just started but that I was immediately captivated by. The Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning novel has been on my to-read list for a while, like so many other books. But with the recent release of Barry Jenkins’s TV adaptation, I figured now is the time. The Underground Railroad is an impressive work of historical fiction as we follow Cora’s attempt to escape slavery and find freedom. I am not sure where this story will end–I am about halfway through–but I am eager to find out. What has impressed me most about Whitehead’s writing is his ability to tell both a singular, personal escape narrative while also including horrifying historical facts and details about slavery that force us to grapple with the original sins of this country. A history we all share and must acknowledge if we are to heal and grow.

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator

Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

One thought on “AWM Staff Picks: June

  1. Sonia Adams says:

    The book selections for June highlight the importance of centering BIPOC stories and historical narratives often obscured by dominant canon and publishing standards. The late Reinaldo Arenas was unapologetically committed to the written word. Octavia Butler’s continued legacy in capturing the complex lives and experiences of Black people resonates in the writings of Colson Whitehead, Zakiya Dalila Harris, and Saeed Jones.

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