AWM Staff Picks May 2023

AWM Staff Picks: May 2023

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 May staff picks are also available on, which benefits independent bookstores. We also strongly encourage you to support your local bookstore by visiting them in person or ordering online through them directly.

A Living Remedy by Nicole Chung book cover

A Living Remedy by Nicole Chung

From the publisher: “‘In this country, unless you attain extraordinary wealth, you will likely be unable to help your loved ones in all the ways you’d hoped. You will learn to live with the specific, hollow guilt of those who leave hardship behind, yet are unable to bring anyone else with them‘… Exploring the enduring strength of family bonds in the face of hardship and tragedy, A Living Remedy examines what it takes to reconcile the distance between one life, one home, and another—and sheds needed light on some of the most persistent and grievous inequalities in American society.”

We are excited to welcome Chung back to the American Writers Museum on May 16 to discuss her new memoir, one of the most anticipated books of the year. Get your tickets to the in-person event here, or register for the online broadcast here.

—Nate, Digital Content Associate

Anything But Fine by Tobias Madden book cover

Anything But Fine by Tobias Madden

From the publisher: “Luca is ready to audition for the Australian Ballet School. All it takes to crush his dreams is one missed step…and a broken foot. Jordan is the gorgeous rowing star and school captain of Luca’s new school. Everyone says he’s straight—but Luca’s not so sure… As their unlikely bond grows stronger, Luca starts to wonder: who is he without ballet? And is he setting himself up for another heartbreak?”

—Matt, Social Media Coordinator

Does It Hurt? by Kaleena Madruga book cover

Does It Hurt? by Kaleena Madruga

I’ve just recently picked up this collection of essays, but the writing has already deeply enchanted me. Having discovered a mysterious pain in her foot, the author goes on a quest to discover the source of her pain and along the way is forced to face the problems in her life. Deeply emotional and personal, I cannot recommend this book enough.

—Matt, Social Media Coordinator

The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks by Gwendolyn Brooks, edited by Elizabeth Alexander book cover

The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks by Gwendolyn Brooks; edited by Elizabeth Alexander

From the publisher: “‘If you wanted a poem,’ wrote Gwendolyn Brooks, ‘you only had to look out of a window. There was material always, walking or running, fighting or screaming or singing.’ From the life of Chicago’s South Side she made a forceful and passionate poetry that fused Modernist aesthetics with African-American cultural tradition, a poetry that registered the life of the streets and the upheavals of the 20th century. Starting with A Street in Bronzeville (1945), her epoch-making debut volume, The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks traces the full arc of her career in all its ambitious scope and unexpected stylistic shifts.”

I recently had the honor of speaking with writers Eve L. Ewing, Nate Marshall, and Nora Brooks Blakely (the daughter of Gwendolyn Brooks) for an episode of our podcast Nation of Writers about the great Miss Brooks. Listen to the fascinating conversation here, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

—Nate, Digital Content Associate

Florence developed by Mountains video game

Florence developed by Mountains

From the video game developer: “Florence Yeoh feels a little…stuck. Her life is an endless routine of work, sleep, and spending too much time on social media. Then one day, she meets a cello player named Krish who changes everything about how she sees the world and herself.”

—Matt, Social Media Coordinator

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney book cover

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney

From the publisher: “In his short life, the Guyanese intellectual Walter Rodney emerged as one of the leading thinkers and activists of the anticolonial revolution, leading movements in North America, South America, the African continent, and the Caribbean…In his magnum opus, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Rodney incisively argues that grasping ‘the great divergence’ between the west and the rest can only be explained as the exploitation of the latter by the former. This meticulously researched analysis of the abiding repercussions of European colonialism on the continent of Africa has not only informed decades of scholarship and activism, it remains an indispensable study for grasping global inequality today.”

—Cassidy, Guest Services & Operations Assistant

Jawbone by Monica Ojeda book cover

Jawbone by Monica Ojeda, translated by Sarah Booker

From the publisher: “When Fernanda, Annelise, and their friends from the Delta Bilingual Academy convene after school, Annelise leads them in thrilling but increasingly dangerous rituals to a rhinestoned, Dior-scented, drag-queen god of her own invention. Even more perilous is the secret Annelise and Fernanda share, rooted in a dare in which violence meets love. Meanwhile, their literature teacher Miss Clara, who is obsessed with imitating her dead mother, struggles to preserve her deteriorating sanity. Each day she edges nearer to a total break with reality…. Jawbone is an ominous, multivocal novel that explores the terror inherent in the pure potentiality of adolescence and the fine line between desire and fear.”

—Sam, Storyteller

Less by Andrew Sean Greer book cover

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

From the publisher: “A struggling novelist travels the world to avoid an awkward wedding in this hilarious Pulitzer Prize-winning novel… Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last. Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, Less is, above all, a love story. A scintillating satire of the American abroad, a rumination on time and the human heart, a bittersweet romance of chances lost, by an author The New York Times has hailed as ‘inspired, lyrical,’ ‘elegiac,’ ‘ingenious,’ as well as ‘too sappy by half,’ Less shows a writer at the peak of his talents raising the curtain on our shared human comedy.”

—Christopher, Director of Operations

Moyenda and the Golden Heart by Nora Brooks Blakely book cover

Moyenda and The Golden Heart by Nora Brooks Blakely, illustrated by Bryant Smith

From the publisher: “A young boy lives in a small village in Africa. Adopted by the village years ago, he is excited when merchants come to his village and speak of a wondrous prize. Join MOYENDA on his daring quest to find the greatest treasure of all and bring it back to the people he loves. This beautifully illustrated read-to-me tale for ages 3-8 is set in a fictional country in long-ago Africa and establishes a mythical foundation for the Kwanzaa holiday created by Maulana Karenga in the 1960s.”

As mentioned above, Nora Brooks Blakely joined us on the recent episode of Nation of Writers about her mother Gwendolyn Brooks. Give it a listen for fascinating insights into Brooks’s life and writing from her daughter, as well as fellow poets Eve L. Ewing and Nate Marshall. Listen here!

—Nate, Digital Content Associate

Book cover of The People's Tongue

The People’s Tongue: Americans and the English Language edited by Ilan Stavans

“A riveting, one-of-a-kind anthology of the diversity, strangeness, and power of American English, featuring a tremendous array of essays, letters, poems, songs, speeches, stories, jeremiads, manifestos, and decrees across history…Driven by American innovators, English has become the global language of both business and entertainment—the medium of the laws that bind us, the art that inspires us, and the connections we forge across cultures. A compendium that is as rich and diverse as the country itself, The People’s Tongue helps us grapple with how English has become the world’s lingua franca.”

We are looking forward to a special event on May 21 in celebration of this new anthology, with readings and musical performances by Carolyn Curiel, Paquito D’Rivera, Fareed Haque, and Ilan Stavans. Get tickets for the in-person program here, or register for the livestream link here.

—Nate, Digital Content Associate

Salt Houses by Hala Alyan book cover

Salt Houses by Hala Alyan

From the publisher: “Salma is forced to leave her home in Nablus; Alia’s brother gets pulled into a politically militarized world he can’t escape; and Alia and her gentle-spirited husband move to Kuwait City, where they reluctantly build a life with their three children. When Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait in 1990, Alia and her family once again lose their home, their land, and their story as they know it, scattering to Beirut, Paris, Boston, and beyond. Soon Alia’s children begin families of their own, once again navigating the burdens (and blessings) of assimilation in foreign cities. Lyrical and heartbreaking, Salt Houses is a remarkable debut novel that challenges and humanizes an age-old conflict we might think we understand—one that asks us to confront that most devastating of all truths: you can’t go home again.”

—Christopher, Director of Operations

Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen book cover

Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen

This story is something like “The Little Mermaid” meets West African mythology, and it had me hooked from the beginning. I learned a lot about Yoruba gods, or orisa, while also being immersed in the story of Simi, a mami wata who must find a way to beg forgiveness from the Supreme Creator after breaking a law of her kind. It is a difficult read at times, referencing the atrocities of the Atlantic slave trade, but is certainly appropriate for teens and adults alike.

—Ari, Assistant Director, Operations & Exhibits

The Turn of the Screw and Other Short Novels by Henry James book cover

The Turn of the Screw and Other Short Novels by Henry James

From the publisher: “By turns chilling, funny, tragic, and profound, this collection of six Henry James short novels allows readers to experience the full range of his skills and vision. The title story, “The Turn of the Screw”, is a chilling masterpiece of psychological terror that mixes the phantoms of the mind with those of the supernatural. “Daisy Miller,” the tale of a provincial American girl in Rome that established James’s literary reputation, and “An International Episode” are superb examples of his focus on the clash between American and European values. And in “The Aspern Papers,” “The Alter of the Dead,” and “The Beast in the Jungle,” the author’s remarkable sense of irony, his love of plot twists, and his view of male-female relationships find exquisite expression.

—Nate, Digital Content Associate

Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

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