The cliché about MFA programs (and arts degrees in general) is that the percentage of graduates who are still practicing a decade later is pretty poor. I’m delighted that my classmates appear to be the exception as the (then tiny) writing program at Goddard College in Port Townsend is where I first met the authors of four of the five books listed below. It’s a big year for these writers, especially since most of these are first books, and it’s a big year for me because I get to help celebrate them. Please join me in showing them ever so much reading love…
Natasha Oliver’s The Evolved Ones (Awakening #1)
In a world where humans are evolving, people are more curious than afraid. They look for answers from a handful of scientists who try to uncover why some develop abilities yet the vast majority to do. For most humans, it’s an exciting time, but for EOs— the evolved ones—it’s a game of hide and seek that ends with far too many of their kind disappearing, permanently.
Natasha is the writer I envision when I explain to people why I can’t (and won’t) write fantasy, because her creativity and world-building are so wonderfully alive that all I could hope to do is kneel at her altar. She’s been working for a long time on this book, the first of what promises to be an amazing series full of excitement, deep human insight, and a great story, and I’m very much looking forward to reading it the second it’s released in the U.S. in 2020. I suggest pre-ordering it now as a little present to your future self or flying over to Singapore where it’s available right now.
Cody T. Luff’s Ration
Cynthia and Imeld have always lived in the Apartments. A world where every calorie is rationed and the girls who live there are forced to weigh their own hunger against the lives of the others living in the building. It’s a world where the threat of the Wet Room and Ms. Lion always lingers, and punishments are doled out heavily both by the Women who oversee them and the other girls.
The two things I want to tell you about Cody are that he writes some of the deepest, darkest work I’ve ever read and also that he very tenderly officiated at my wedding. In that contradiction lies the heart of a man who is full of kindness and generosity and also is not afraid to be very real on the page and in person. Because Cody lives a little closer to me than Natasha these days, I was lucky enough to attend one of Cody’s readings and am pleased to report that this book will be dark, gory, and feminist. I’ve been saving my copy to read on a very bad day because I know it will be very good. Get your copy of Ration from Powell’s.
Nita Sweeny’s Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running With My Dog Brought Me Back From the Brink
It’s never too late to chase your dreams: Before she discovered running, Nita Sweeney was 49-years-old, chronically depressed, occasionally manic, and unable to jog for more than 60 seconds at a time. Using exercise, Nita discovered an inner strength she didn’t know she possessed, and with the help of her canine companion, she found herself on the way to completing her first marathon. In her memoir, Sweeney shares how she overcame emotional and physical challenges to finish the race and come back from the brink.
Nita was a year or maybe just a semester ahead of me at Goddard but her kindness stuck with me and I’ve held tight to the friendship over the last decade. Though I haven’t read this book yet (parenting ate my reading time), I am certain that it’s as warm, sincere, and thoughtful as Nita is. She’s the one who told me years ago that the word “husband” never gets old… and she’s right. Let’s both pop on over to Powell’s this second and order copies of Depression Hates a Moving Target. Nita also offers a wealth of inspiration and opportunities on Twitter.
Karen Hugg’s The Forgetting Flower
Secrets and half-truths. These litter Renia Baranczka’s past, but the city of Paris has offered an escape and the refuge of a dream job. The specialty plant shop buzzes with activity and has brought her to a new friend, Alain. His presence buffers the guilt that keeps her up at night, dwelling on the endless replays of what happened to her sister. All too suddenly, the City of Light seems more sinister when Alain turns up dead. His demise threatens every secret Renia holds dear, including the rare plant hidden in the shop’s tiny nook. It emits a special fragrance that can erase a person’s memory—and perhaps much more than that.
Karen was one of a very select group of beta readers for Polska, 1994 because she knows her shit about writing. She even honored A Geography of Reading with a few reviews many years ago. Karen is not only an artist with words but also a devoted gardener (talents she merges in this book), and I have every confidence that her worldliness and creativity make The Forgetting Flower a fantastic read.
Elissa Washuta’s Shapes of Native Nonfiction: Collected Essays by Contemporary Writers
Just as a basket’s purpose determines its materials, weave, and shape, so too is the purpose of the essay related to its material, weave, and shape. Editors Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton ground this anthology of essays by Native writers in the formal art of basket weaving. Using weaving techniques such as coiling and plaiting as organizing themes, the editors have curated an exciting collection of imaginative, world-making lyric essays by twenty-seven contemporary Native writers from tribal nations across Turtle Island into a well-crafted basket.
Elissa is the only writer on this list I did not go to school with. Instead I met her through Hugo House and the Artist Trust Edge program and have been glad to follow her career ever since. The most established writer on this list, Elissa is not only one of the editors of this collection but also a contributor. This is the one book I have already read and I can tell you that it’s very much worth a read. Not only did it stretch my worldview, the essay by Stephen Graham Jones knocked me on my creative ass and got me writing deep in a time when I was lost, lost, lost. I’m certain that every reader of this book will have their very own favorite essay. Please read Shapes of Native Nonfiction and tell me all about yours.
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