Photo of American Writers Museum President Carey Cranston at the museum's Word Waterfall exhibit with text that reads: "President's Picks: A Book List"

President’s Picks: A Book List

AWM President Carey Cranston makes his summer reading recommendations.

In a recent interview on WBEZ’s daily talk show Reset, American Writers Museum President Carey Cranston shared his reading suggestions for this summer and beyond. From fun beach reads to books for history buffs to stories for the whole family, you’re sure to find your next summer read here. And once you’ve read it, visit the AWM and tell us what you think!

This list is also available on our page at Bookshop.org. Book purchases benefit the AWM, as well as other literary organizations and independent bookstores.


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

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

“Jennifer Keishin Armstrong tells the little-known story of four trailblazing women in the early days of television who laid the foundation of the industry we know today. It was the Golden Age of Radio and powerful men were making millions in advertising dollars reaching thousands of listeners every day. When television arrived, few radio moguls were interested in the upstart industry and its tiny production budgets, and expensive television sets were out of reach for most families. But four women—Irna Phillips, Gertrude Berg, Hazel Scott, and Betty White—saw an opportunity and carved their own paths, and in so doing invented the way we watch tv today.” We hosted Jennifer for a program in March which you can watch on YouTube or listen to a condensed version on AWM Author Talks.

Jennifer, along with Zakiya Dalila Harris (see below), also co-hosts our fun and eye-opening podcast series Dead Writer Drama in which they interview guests about writers of the past and the sometimes scandalous and sordid details of their lives. Like the FBI file on Ray Bradbury. Or classic feuds like Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is what they don’t teach in American Lit 101. Listen and subscribe!


The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

​​”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…A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.”


Becoming Ray Bradbury by Dr. Jonathan Eller book cover

Becoming Ray Bradbury (Volume 1) by Dr. Jonathan R. Eller

Becoming Ray Bradbury chronicles the making of an iconic American writer by exploring Ray Bradbury’s childhood and early years of his long life in fiction, film, television, radio, and theater. Jonathan R. Eller measures the impact of the authors, artists, illustrators, and filmmakers who stimulated Bradbury’s imagination throughout his first three decades. Unprecedented access to Bradbury’s personal papers and other private collections provides insight into his emerging talent through his unpublished correspondence, his rare but often insightful notes on writing, and his interactions with those who mentored him during those early years.”

This is the first of a three-volume biography that also includes Ray Bradbury Unbound and Bradbury Beyond Apollo. Dr. Eller also helped us immensely in developing our special exhibit Ray Bradbury: Inextinguishable. The exhibit is open now and can be explored in person through May 2022. An online version of the exhibit is also available here.


Chester B. Himes: A Biography by Lawrence P. Jackson

Chester B. Himes: A Biography by Lawrence P. Jackson

“Chester B. Himes has been called “one of the towering figures of the black literary tradition” (Henry Louis Gates Jr.), “the best writer of mayhem yarns since Raymond Chandler” (San Francisco Chronicle), and “a quirky American genius” (Walter Mosely). He was the twentieth century’s most prolific black writer, captured the spirit of his times expertly, and left a distinctive mark on American literature. Yet today he stands largely forgotten. In this definitive biography, Lawrence P. Jackson uses exclusive interviews and unrestricted access to Himes’s full archives to portray a controversial American writer whose novels unflinchingly confront sex, racism, and black identity…Jackson’s scholarship and astute commentary illuminates Himes’s improbable life…and restores the legacy of a fascinating maverick caught between his aspirations for commercial success and his disturbing, vivid portraits of the United States.” Learn more about Himes in our virtual American Voices exhibit.


IQ by Joe Ide book cover

IQ by Joe Ide

“East Long Beach. The LAPD is barely keeping up with the neighborhood’s high crime rate. Murders go unsolved, lost children unrecovered. But someone from the neighborhood has taken it upon himself to help solve the cases the police can’t or won’t touch. They call him IQ. He’s a loner and a high school dropout, his unassuming nature disguising a relentless determination and a fierce intelligence. He charges his clients whatever they can afford, which might be a set of tires or a homemade casserole. To get by, he’s forced to take on clients that can pay.”

Any of Ide’s IQ detective series are great for mystery lovers, but I would start with this first one. The most recent is Smoke. Ide is also one of more than 30 writers featured in our exhibit My America: Immigrant & Refugee Writers Today who share their experiences as first- and second-generation immigrants and refugees writing in the U.S. The physical exhibit has been extended through 2021, and a version of the exhibit is also available to explore online at My-America.org.


Blood Grove by Walter Mosley book cover

Blood Grove by Walter Mosley

“Master of craft and narrative Walter Mosley returns with this crowning achievement in the Easy Rawlins saga, in which the iconic detective’s loyalties are tested on the sun-soaked streets of Southern California…Blood Grove is a crackling, moody, and thrilling race through a California of hippies and tycoons, radicals and sociopaths, cops and grifters, both men and women. Easy will need the help of his friends—from the genius Jackson Blue to the dangerous Mouse Alexander, Fearless Jones, and Christmas Black—to make sense of a case that reveals the darkest impulses humans harbor.”

We hosted Mosley back in 2018 when his novel John Woman was published. That program is also available on YouTube and the AWM Author Talks podcast. I highly recommend listening to this program, as Mosley’s insights into writing are profound. Plus he’s really funny!


Gone to the Woods by Gary Paulsen

Gone to the Woods by Gary Paulsen

“His name is synonymous with high-stakes wilderness survival stories. Now, beloved author Gary Paulsen portrays a series of life-altering moments from his turbulent childhood as his own original survival story. If not for his summer escape from a shockingly neglectful Chicago upbringing to a North Woods homestead at age five, there never would have been a Hatchet. Without the encouragement of the librarian who handed him his first book at age thirteen, he may never have become a reader. And without his desperate teenage enlistment in the Army, he would not have discovered his true calling as a storyteller. An entrancing account of grit and growing up, perfect for newcomers and lifelong fans alike, this is the famed author at his rawest and most real.”

We had the honor of speaking with Paulsen about this book this past January and, like most of our programs, it is available to watch on YouTube or listen to a condensed version on AWM Author Talks.


I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

“Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family. But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role. Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed. But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?”

Sánchez is also featured in My America: Immigrant & Refugee Writers Today, which, again, can be explored in full in person or a portion of it online at My-America.org.


It's Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura book cover

It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura

“Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like the fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself–the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend…Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, telling the truth is easy…what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.”

Sugiura, who is also featured in My America, was recently a guest on our podcast Nation of Writers. Sugiura, who is of Japanese descent, chatted with us about one of her biggest influences, fellow Japanese-American writer Hisaye Yamamoto. The conversation is fascinating, and you can learn even more about Yamamoto in the virtual exhibit we created for Google Arts & Culture. Check it out here!


The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. book cover

The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.

“A singular and stunning debut novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence…With a lyricism reminiscent of Toni Morrison, Robert Jones, Jr., fiercely summons the voices of slaver and enslaved alike, from Isaiah and Samuel to the calculating slave master to the long line of women that surround them, women who have carried the soul of the plantation on their shoulders. As tensions build and the weight of centuries—of ancestors and future generations to come—culminates in a climactic reckoning, The Prophets masterfully reveals the pain and suffering of inheritance, but is also shot through with hope, beauty, and truth, portraying the enormous, heroic power of love.”

This book is stunning, and I am so excited that Jones, Jr. was the guest on the most recent episode of Dead Writer Drama! I highly recommend this episode in which Jones, Jr. discusses the legacy of James Baldwin, one of his literary heroes and guiding lights.


Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

“A chillingly personal and exquisitely wrought memoir of a daughter reckoning with the brutal murder of her mother at the hands of her former stepfather, and the moving, intimate story of a poet coming into her own in the wake of a tragedy…Memorial Drive is a compelling and searching look at a shared human experience of sudden loss and absence but also a piercing glimpse at the enduring ripple effects of white racism and domestic abuse. Animated by unforgettable prose and inflected by a poet’s attention to language, this is a luminous, urgent, and visceral memoir from one of our most important contemporary writers and thinkers.”

Hosting Trethewey, the former U.S. Poet Laureate, for a virtual program in July 2020 was a true honor, especially amidst the protests and calls for racial justice. In that context, this book and program, are profound. It is very much worth a watch on YouTube or a listen on AWM Author Talks.


Visit our Reading Recommendations page for more book lists.

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