AWM Staff Picks: September 2021

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 August staff picks are also available on Bookshop.org, 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.


Finna by Nate Marshall book cover

Finna by Nate Marshall

A friend of mine recently gave me this poetry collection by Chicago native Nate Marshall because she thought I would like it and also because my name is also Nate. (No, don’t worry, I’m not the other Nate Marshall). Little did my friend know, this book has been on my to-read list for a while now and she was totally right, I like it a lot! The poems are accessible to someone like me who has no poetry education or training, and they often cut deep leaving me to think about my privileged place in the world. I first came across Nate Marshall as one of the editors of The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop and his hip-hop background certainly comes through in Finna as well. I highly recommend this book to anyone unsure if poetry is for them, because it’s for all of us. And thank you to my friend Erin for the birthday gift!

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator


The Four Winds by Kristen Hannah book cover

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

From the publisher: “From the number-one bestselling author of The Nightingale and The Great Alone comes a powerful American epic about love and heroism and hope, set during the Great Depression, a time when the country was in crisis and at war with itself, when millions were out of work and even the land seemed to have turned against them…The Four Winds is a rich, sweeping novel that stunningly brings to life the Great Depression and the people who lived through it—the harsh realities that divided us as a nation and the enduring battle between the haves and the have-nots. A testament to hope, resilience, and the strength of the human spirit to survive adversity, The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.”

–Catherine, Signature Events & Donor Relations Manager


Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead book cover

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

For months at a time during the harsh pandemic winter I could barely focus enough to read, an activity that always brought me calm and peace but I was losing touch with. Then Barry Jenkins’ The Underground Railroad television show came out and I was inspired to finally pick up the book of the same name that the show was based on. I still haven’t watched the show, but that’s because with his book The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead reminded me how much fun reading can be. So, I am very much looking forward to the forthcoming Harlem Shuffle by the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner, who seems to never disappoint. It is “a gloriously entertaining novel of heists, shakedowns, and rip-offs set in Harlem in the 1960s” and I can’t wait to dig into it. Whitehead is the headliner of the AWM’s lineup at this weekend’s Printers Row Lit Fest and will surely be a fascinating conversation.

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator


The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave book cover

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

From the publisher: “Before Owen Michaels disappears, he smuggles a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers—Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother. As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered, as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss, as a US marshal and federal agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared. Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they’re also building a new future—one neither of them could have anticipated. With its breakneck pacing, dizzying plot twists, and evocative family drama, The Last Thing He Told Me is a riveting mystery, certain to shock you with its final, heartbreaking turn.

–Catherine, Signature Events & Donor Relations Manager


Leaving Tabasco by Carmen Boullosa book cover

Leaving Tabasco by Carmen Boullosa

From the publisher: “Carmen Boullosa is one of Mexico’s most acclaimed young writers, and Leaving Tabasco tells of the coming-of-age of Delmira Ulloa, raised in an all-female home in Agustini, in the Mexican province of Tabasco. In Agustini it is not unusual to see your grandmother float above the bed when she sleeps, or to purchase torrential rains at a traveling fair, or to watch your family’s elderly serving woman develop stigmata, then disappear completely, to be canonized as a local saint. As Delmira becomes a woman she will search for her missing father, and will make a choice that will force her to leave home forever. Brimming with the spirit of its irrepressible heroine, Leaving Tabasco is a story of great charm and depth that will remain in its readers’ hearts for a long time.”

–Cristina, Guest Services & Operations Supervisor


Never a City So Real by Alex Kotlowitz book cover

Never a City So Real by Alex Kotlowitz

A look at Chicago through some of the eyes of some of its inhabitants as told by Alex Kotlowitz, author of the award-winning There Are No Children Here. Get to know the neighborhoods, from the dive bars and historic landmarks, to the stories that are told over a sandwich at the local diner. A fascinating read for anyone interested in the City of Big Shoulders.

–Christopher, Director of Operations


Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis book cover

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

From the publisher: “The first book in C. S. Lewis’s acclaimed Space Trilogy, which continues with Perelandra and That Hideous Strength, Out of the Silent Planet begins the adventures of the remarkable Dr. Ransom. Here, that estimable man is abducted by a megalomaniacal physicist and his accomplice and taken via spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra. The two men are in need of a human sacrifice, and Dr. Ransom would seem to fit the bill. Once on the planet, however, Ransom eludes his captors, risking his life and his chances of returning to Earth, becoming a stranger in a land that is enchanting in its difference from Earth and instructive in its similarity. First published in 1943, Out of the Silent Planet remains a mysterious and suspenseful tour de force.”

–Nick, Intern


Trini by Etela Portillo Trambley book cover

Trini by Estela Portillo Trambley

From the publisher: “The sole novel of beloved Chicana author Estela Portillo Trambley, Trini is the epic story of one girl’s journey across borders and into womanhood. Born in the rural region of the Tarahumara (Raramuri) people in Mexico, Trini shares her family’s struggle to squeeze a living out of her beautiful but inhospitable land. But she is sustained by the rich traditions of her Mestiza heritage, the adopted traditions of the Tarahumara, and by her own intelligence and spirit. As a young woman, she crosses into the United States to pursue her dreams of independence and land ownership. Trini is a novel distinguished by the richness and beauty of its language and by its rare depiction of life in the Borderlands in the 1940s and 1950s. Most remarkable of all is its portrait of a sensitive and courageous young Chicana woman, whose quiet heroism resonates from every page. Here restored to print with a new foreword, this early novel of the Mexican American experience is bound to take its rightful place among contemporary classics of multicultural American literature.

–Cristina, Guest Services & Operations Supervisor


White Feminism: From the Suffragettes to Influencers and Who They Leave Behind by Koa Beck book cover

White Feminism: From the Suffragettes to Influencers and Who They Leave Behind by Koa Beck

From the publisher: “Addressing today’s conversation about race, empowerment, and inclusion in America, Koa Beck, writer and former editor-in-chief of Jezebel, boldly examines the history of feminism, from the true mission of the suffragists to the rise of corporate feminism with clear-eyed scrutiny and meticulous detail. She also examines overlooked communities–including Native American, Muslim, transgender, and more–and their ongoing struggles for social change…Beck meticulously documents how elitism and racial prejudice have driven the narrative of feminist discourse. Blending pop culture, primary historical research, and first-hand storytelling, she shows us how we have shut women out of the movement, and what we can do to correct our course for a new generation.”

This is another book that I have not read but am looking forward to, especially because Beck will also be at the AWM Tent at Printers Row Lit Fest to discuss this book. I hope to see you there!

–Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator


The Witch King by H.E. Edgmon book cover

The Witch King by H.E. Edgmon

From the publisher: “In Asalin, fae rule and witches like Wyatt Croft…don’t. Wyatt’s betrothal to his best friend, fae prince Emyr North, was supposed to change that. But when Wyatt lost control of his magic one devastating night, he fled to the human world. Now a coldly distant Emyr has hunted him down. Despite transgender Wyatt’s newfound identity and troubling past, Emyr has no intention of dissolving their engagement. In fact, he claims they must marry now or risk losing the throne. Jaded, Wyatt strikes a deal with the enemy, hoping to escape Asalin forever. But as he gets to know Emyr, Wyatt realizes the boy he once loved may still exist. And as the witches face worsening conditions, he must decide once and for all what’s more important–his people or his freedom.”

–Cassidy, Storyteller


2666 by Roberto Bolaño book cover

2666 by Roberto Bolaño

From the publisher: “Composed in the last years of Roberto Bolaño’s life, 2666 was greeted across Europe and Latin America as his highest achievement, surpassing even his previous work in its strangeness, beauty, and scope. Its throng of unforgettable characters includes academics and convicts, an American sportswriter, an elusive German novelist, and a teenage student and her widowed, mentally unstable father. Their lives intersect in the urban sprawl of SantaTeresa–a fictional Juárez–on the U.S.-Mexico border, where hundreds of young factory workers, in the novel as in life, have disappeared.”

–Cassidy, Storyteller


Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

One thought on “AWM Staff Picks: September 2021

  1. Sonia Adams says:

    September 2021 marks the inception of new literature releases such as the novel Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead. The AWM Staff Picks are interesting in scope. I like the array of different genres and topics explored in these books. Nate Marshall’s Finna blends personal experience and social commentary through word play, poetic forms and cultural aesthetics. Many years ago, I came across the book, Trini by Estela Portillo Trambley, on the Feminist Press website. Although I didn’t get a chance to read the novel, it’s good that AWM has added to the Staff Picks so that readers who aren’t familiar with it.

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