Traveling this summer? Here are book picks for all 50 states (and then some)
Updated June 1, 2022 at 10:07 AM ET
As the summer travel season kicks off, many of us look forward to exploring new places on trips away from home. To help with this, NPR asked poets laureate, state librarians, bookstore owners and other literary luminaries from all 50 states — plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico — to recommend quintessential reads that illuminate where they live.
Here are more than 100 recommendations for you — whether you want to read about somewhere you're heading, a place you hope to go someday, or somewhere you live and want to get to know better.
(And you can let us know what books you think best represent your home state here.)
Nominated by McCall Hardison, marketing director of the Little Professor bookshop in Homewood, Ala.
Where I Come From: Stories from the Deep South by Rick Bragg: This book is a series of personal stories about the South that provide a sense of place and knowing that will make Southern readers grin and that will disclose a profound picture of the South to all others. Rick Bragg covers lots of ground regarding what it means to live in the South: caring about your mama, the importance of being for the right sports team (hint: choose an SEC team), what foods makes you a true Southerner and why the chariot of his people, the pickup truck, no longer represents what it used to stand for.
The Edna Lewis Cookbook by Edna Lewis and Evangeline Peterson: Once a dear friend of Alabama's Scott Peacock, the late Edna Lewis has been called "the South's answer to Julia Child." Her background reflects Southern truths of slavery and inequity, and her success is a reminder of the unsung heroes who make an outsize impact on our culture and, in the case of Lewis, what we eat. In Alabama, we take our meat and threes and and Southern fare seriously and owe a great debt to Lewis.
Nominated by Heather Lende, Alaska state writer laureate
Cold Mountain Path: The Ghost Town Decades of McCarthy-Kennecott, Alaska by Tom Kizzia: It is impossible to choose one book to represent Alaska because our state is so varied. There are rainforests and the Arctic tundra, tiny villages and cities, and over 100 languages spoken, from Ahtna to Zulu. But Cold Mountain Path is a good place to start. It's an excellent history of McCarthy, Alaska, in the 20th century. McCarthy was home to a world-class copper mine. After the mines closed in 1938, all sorts of characters remained, and more arrived in the following decades, creating a kind of only-in-Alaska community. This is a story about the Alaska that we once were and that I think many of us feel we are losing.
Blonde Indian: An Alaska Native Memoir by Ernestine Hayes: An incredibly moving, sometimes painful, magical memoir by a former Alaska state writer laureate, Ernestine Hayes. The memoir goes from her roots in a Lingít village in Juneau to years of poverty and wandering in California, and then her return to Alaska at age 50. Lingít stories weave in and out of the personal narrative, and the inlets, rainforests and mountains of Southeast Alaska are vivid characters. The overall effect is one of awe and wonder at Hayes' bravery, wisdom, wit and generosity of spirit. When you finish this one, her follow-up memoir, The Tao of Raven, is another must-read.
To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey: Alaska is packed with so many talented writers that it's hard for me to choose. However, Eowyn Ivey spins fantastic tales and should be on any list. This adventure novel follows an 1885 expedition up the fictitious Wolverine River. The small band of explorers encounters all kinds of obstacles in Alaska, from weather, white water and wild animals to cabin fever and mythical spirits. The story is told mostly through letters between the group's leader and his wife, who stayed behind but is on her own journey of self-discovery, and features some wonderful illustrations. I just loved this book full of magical realism, great characters and wild Alaska.
Nominated by Sophia Solis, public information officer for Arizona's secretary of state
Arizona: 100 Years Grand by Lisa Schnebly Heidinger: This book shares stories of our state's unique history with a diverse collection of photographs from archival collections, local businesses and various photographers. Selected as Arizona's official centennial commemorative book, Arizona: 100 Years Grand highlights special people, events, geographic features and buildings of the Grand Canyon State throughout its first century of statehood, from 1912 to 2012. Arizona PBS also featured the work and its author on the show Books & Co. in April 2012.
Nominated by Suzanne Underwood Rhodes, poet laureate of Arkansas
A Painted House by John Grisham: Narrated by 7-year-old Luke Chandler, A Painted House draws from the author's own childhood as the son of cotton farmers in Arkansas. Set in 1952, the novel reflects the rural poverty still present in my state. But despite the Chandlers' monetary struggles and the acts of violence committed in this hardscrabble farming community, redemptive moments capture the best of life in the South: hearty family meals around the table, "putting up" vegetables from the garden, evenings on the front porch, the excitement of a carnival coming to town — all told in John Grisham's dramatic, realistically vivid style.
Nominated by Greg Lucas, state librarian of California
Mary Coin by Marisa Silver: The plot of this lyrical and evocative novelbegins with Walker Dodge, a city-living son, returning home after the death of his father to pack up his family's Central Valley farmhouse. Sifting through his father's past, he comes across a mystery that has at its center a fictional version of the woman portrayed in Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother photograph. Weaving in numerous strands of California's past and present, the novel cuts back and forth across the years from the hardscrabble life of Mary Coin to Dodge's tenacious present-day effort to find where she fits into his history.
Nominated by Bobby LeFebre, poet laureate of Colorado
Sabrina & Corina: Stories by Kali Fajardo-Anstine: These short stories are rooted in a history and lens that are often not centered. Kali Fajardo-Anstine's collection uplifts Indigenous roots and the woman and femme experience while exploring what it means to exist in modern times with that beauty and conflict running through your veins. As a Coloradan with roots that predate statehood, when I read Fajardo-Anstine's stories for the first time, I felt at home in the pages. She writes of our state and the Southwest like only someone who knows the land and its people can.
Nominated by Deborah Schander, state librarian at the Connecticut State Library
Creating Connecticut: Critical Moments That Shaped a Great State by Walter W. Woodward: In 24 stories, Connecticut's state historian, Walter W. Woodward, weaves together prominent figures in our state's history, such as Samuel Langhorne Clemens (otherwise known by his pen name, Mark Twain), and little-known events to create a colorful tapestry of pivotal moments in our state's development. In one sobering entry on the 1636-1638 Pequot War, Woodward explores the ripple effects that conflict continues to have long after the physical fight. In another, he examines Connecticut's attention to family history through the lens of Lyman Orchards and the 10 generations that have stewarded it. Throughout the collection, Woodward's deft prose demonstrates how the past reveals our state's future.
District of Columbia
Nominated by Richard Reyes-Gavilan, executive director of the DC Public Library
Big Girls Don't Cry by Connie Briscoe: Connie Briscoe's novel focuses on the life of a young Black woman named Naomi coming of age in D.C. in the 1960s. It explores Naomi's political awakening after the death of her brother, as well as her family and romantic life. The book was chosen as the DC Public Library's recommendation for the Library of Congress' Route 1 Reads list of romance titles.
The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos: The latest from George Pelecanos, The Man Who Came Uptown is a crime novel focusing on a man returning to a Washington, D.C., that has changed dramatically during his time in prison. In researching the story, Pelecanos spent time with the D.C. Jail's librarian to develop one of the main characters in the story, Michael Hudson.
Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C. by Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood: To understand local politics, you have to understand the people who live and work in the District of Columbia. Veteran local journalists Tom Sherwood and Harry Jaffe's Dream City dives into the growth, decline and reemergence of Washington, D.C., by focusing on political leaders such as Marion Barry and Vince Gray. It remains an in-demand book in the DC Public Library's collection.
Nominated by Patty Langley, administrative librarian at the Delaware Division of Libraries
The Saint of Lost Things: A Novel by Christopher Castellani: This novel is a fictional account of life in Little Italy, a tightknit Italian neighborhood in Wilmington, Del. Set in 1953, the story follows Maddalena and Antonio Grasso, a young immigrant couple trying to pursue the American dream as they navigate loss in a new country. It is a beautiful slice-of-life story.
Nominated by Heather Halak, owner of Third House Books in Gainesville, Fla.
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett: This novel captures aspects of Florida that most Sunshine State novels gloss over. As Jessa struggles to make sense of her grief in the aftermath of her father's death, sand and sea are replaced with storefronts along rural state roads, irreverent roadkill taxidermy, and the Florida Man kind of delirium that is surely the result of the heat and humidity. Like The Florida Project, Mostly Dead Things is a sober look at the state's diverse landscape — socially and regionally.
Florida by Lauren Groff: As a Gainesville resident of 10 years, I'm obligated to mention Lauren Groff's story collection as a fresh take on the state. While Groff is not from Florida originally, she harnesses the state's distinct unruliness with ease. The first story, "Ghosts and Empties," is set in a historic Gainesville neighborhood. Despite the idyllic Victorian and Cracker houses that line the streets, there's a restlessness that permeates the air. Groff's understanding that even in the sunshine, there can be darkness makes this collection a must-read.
Nominated by Chelsea Rathburn, poet laureate of Georgia
We Almost Disappear by David Bottoms: This book shows us two Georgia landscapes, a contemporary Georgia overlaid with a remembered one. We Almost Disappear, by a former Georgia poet laureate raised in the once-small town of Canton, opens with the poem "First Woods," recounting the speaker's earliest hunting trip with his father and uncle; the collection goes on to traverse ponds, creeks and suburban cul-de-sacs as the poet considers his aging parents, his young daughter and his own mortality. All of Bottoms' books are wonderful, but this one happens to be my favorite.
Blood Ties & Brown Liquor: Poems by Sean Hill: This collection of poems — Sean Hill's first — constructs an intricate, multilayered portrait of a fictional African American family living in Hill's real-life hometown of Milledgeville, Ga. Following members of the Wright family from 1831 into the 1970s, and spoken by a range of characters in a variety of poetic forms, Blood Ties & Brown Liquor captures the voices and histories of an entire community.
Nominated by Kealoha Wong, poet laureate of Hawaiʻi
Hawaiʻi's Story by Hawaiʻi's Queen by Liliʻuokalani: Is Hawaiʻi a legitimate state? To understand Hawaiʻi, it's important to know that some consider it an illegally occupied sovereign nation. This book is a firsthand account of how it all transpired, written by Hawaiʻi's last queen. We get an in-depth glimpse of what Hawaiʻi was like in the mid-late 1800s — beginning with Liliʻuokalani's childhood, following her journey and accession to the throne, and ending with a heartbreaking account of her illegal overthrow by a small group of missionary descendants and greedy businessmen. This book is an essential part of Hawaiʻi's story.
Nominated by CMarie Fuhrman, Idaho writer in residence
In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country by Kim Barnes: This memoir tells a story of Idaho that not only echoes the extremes that Idahoans take, but combines much of what Idaho is: outdoors, logging, escape, independence, resilience and complication. In the Wilderness seems to be the shadow of a state that still struggles with its logging history, its complex religious history (white or Native), a dividedness, and a country and people who won't give up — for better or worse.
The Beadworkers: Stories by Beth Piatote: This collection of short stories illustrates the life of the Nez Perce in Idaho and nearby. The Native experience in Idaho, like in many other places, has been characterized by the land, the spirit of the people and the coming of white settlers. The Beadworkers holds stories that encapsulate that experience, then and now, and how the Nez Perce have held onto their culture, language and bonds with both family and nature.
Home Below Hell's Canyon by Grace Jordan: To make it through the Great Depression, Grace Jordan and her husband bought a sheep ranch up the Snake River in Idaho's Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America. The Jordans, who spent months at a time cut off from anyone other than those who also lived in the canyon, were virtually self-sufficient. This book is perhaps the best representation of a post-colonial, Depression-era Idaho. The Jordans were resilient, hardworking people who were tied to the landscape and dependent on it, and they raised their children to survive in some of the state's most rugged terrains. The Jordans eventually left Hells Canyon, and husband Len became governor of the state and then a U.S. senator.
Nominated by Angela Jackson, poet laureate of Illinois
Blacks by Gwendolyn Brooks: For more than 30 years, Gwendolyn Brooks was Illinois' poet laureate. Her poetry showed the beauty and authenticity of Black Chicagoans, but the humanity reflected in her work is open to everyone in the state that she served with such devotion for so long. This collection of poetry shows, without a doubt, that she was a world-class poet.
Nominated by Suzanne Walker, Indiana Young Readers Center librarian and director of the Indiana Center for the Book
Wake Up, Woods by Michael Homoya and Shane Gibson, illustrated by Gillian Harris: Look no further for the perfect book to represent Indiana's natural world. Detailed illustrations, lilting verses and scientific explanations make Wake Up, Woods an important text for anyone wanting to wake up to the wonder of native plants when visiting the Hoosier woods. This excellent picture book will delight readers of all ages and is ideal for the classroom or to tuck into a backpack before a hike.
Zorrie by Laird Hunt: A finalist for the 2021 National Book Award in fiction, Zorrie tells the story of one Hoosier woman's life convulsed and transformed by events of the 20th century, specifically the Great Depression. Set in Clinton County, Ind., Zorrie is orphaned twice, first by her parents and then her aunt. She ekes out a living, eventually finding work in a radium processing plant in Illinois. However, when Indiana calls her home, she returns and works to build a new life, yet again. Laird Hunt's novel is a poignant study in rural Midwestern life and an exploration of the passage of time through individuals and communities.
The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon: Caleb wants to experience life beyond his small town in Indiana when he meets Styx Malone, a cool kid with some big secrets, in this middle-grade novel. The promise of the Great Escalator Trade (trading a small thing for something better on the way to reaching what you really want, like trading your baby sister for a bag of fireworks!) tests the kids and their friendships. In this madcap, heartwarming, one-thing-leads-to-another adventure, friendships are forged, loyalties are tested and miracles just might be possible. Lots of Hoosier places are mentioned in this book.
Nominated by Debra Marquart, poet laureate of Iowa
We Heard It When We Were Young by Chuy Renteria: In this poignant and unflinching memoir about growing up Hispanic in West Liberty, Iowa, Chuy Renteria chronicles not only celebratory moments such as quinceañeras and childhood high jinks, but also the violence, trauma and difficulties of being a first-generation Mexican American growing up in the cultural space between his parents' homeland and his own home, the state's first majority-Hispanic town.
Creating the Black Utopia of Buxton, Iowa by Rachelle Chase: In this remarkable book about a little-remembered chapter of Iowa history, author Rachelle Chase researches the events that led to the creation in 1900 of Buxton, a thriving coal-mining town populated largely by African American residents but where white and Black people lived and worked together. Chase documents the community's many accomplishments, its notable residents and its ultimate demise.
The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa by Cornelia F. Mutel: In this natural and cultural history, ecologist Cornelia Mutel blends lyricism and scientific knowledge to tell the story of succession on the Iowa landscape: first, the tallgrass prairie that once dominated, then the emergence of agriculture, which dramatically transformed life in Iowa. Mutel's unique lens allows her to narrate the past and present of the state as well as project visions of an intentional future for Iowa, the land between two rivers.
Nominated by Huascar Edil Medina, poet laureate of Kansas
PrairyErth: A Deep Map by William Least Heat-Moon: I had to include PrairyErth, a travelogue that its author, William Least Heat-Moon, subtitled "A Deep Map." It's a deep look into one particular place: Chase County, in east-central Kansas. Yet Heat-Moon was able to write over 600 pages on the history, geography and ecology of that single county. That history includes pioneer settlers, the forced removal of Native American tribes indigenous to Kansas, freed slaves, abolitionists, Hispanic laborers who built the Santa Fe railroad, the creation of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and more. This book, though hyperlocal, illustrates the complex and rich history of Kansas.
Nominated by Crystal Wilkinson, poet laureate of Kentucky
Belonging: A Culture of Place by bell hooks: In this collection of essays, native Kentuckian and prominent thinker bell hooks examines the lessons and politics of race, class and belonging to explore Kentucky's complexity and leads with the wisdom from the ancestors and her deep love for the state's landscape.
Nancy Culpepper by Bobbie Ann Mason: A consummate Kentucky writer and one of the forerunners of what has become known as "Kmart realism," Bobbie Ann Mason writes with a deft hand about the state — and what it means to leave and to return again. The stories of Nancy Culpepper, which span 1980 to 2005, give a nod to the past and also show the present.
White Rat by Gayl Jones: Through stories steeped in Kentucky language and lives, Gayl Jones gives us a glimpse of Black Kentucky, a place that much of America believes doesn't exist or a place they refuse to see. As fellow Kentucky writer Frank X Walker says in one of his poems, "some of the Bluegrass is Black," and Jones shows us this brilliantly.
Nominated by Rebecca Hamilton, state librarian of Louisiana
All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren: Loosely based on the life and death of U.S. Sen. Huey Long, All the King's Men tells the story of charismatic politician Willie Stark in the Depression-era Deep South and captures old-school Louisiana politics. Stark begins as a salt-of-the-earth rural lawyer. Riding a populist wave, he ultimately falters, giving way to strong-arm demagoguery and his own demise. Enamored by Stark's magnetism, narrator Jack Burden begins working for the politician. But when Burden's personal life intertwines with Stark's machinations, the reporter-turned-lackey must come to terms with the nature of human responsibility amid forces not always in our control.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole: A comedic classic of American Southern literature, A Confederacy of Dunces follows Ignatius Reilly, described by writer Walker Percy in the book's foreward as a "slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one." Reilly is just one of the quirky characters of downtown New Orleans in John Kennedy Toole's posthumously published, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. It's a wild ride through the city's underbelly, introducing readers to outcasts as idiosyncratic as the Mardi Gras parades that roll down Canal Street.
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines: The award-winning novel by Ernest J. Gaines focuses on two African American men: Jefferson, who is accused of murder, and Grant, who had gone away for school and returns home to a community struggling to survive. Grant visits Jefferson in prison as he waits to be executed, and the men develop a bond, both eventually learning from the other. Set in a small, segregated Louisiana town in the late 1940s, A Lesson Before Dying is filled with important and timeless themes, including justice, growth, dignity and death.
Nominated by Julia Bouwsma, poet laureate of Maine
The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute: Beyond the picturesque lighthouses, rugged coastline and lobster dinners of the classic tourist experience lies the working-class Maine that is too frequently overlooked or exploited by outside interests. In The Beans of Egypt, Maine, Carolyn Chute tenderly and candidly presents a fictional but representative small, rural inland town — a community steeped in generational poverty, marked by both hard labor and fierce beauty, and composed of complex and moving characters whose love is as deep as it is raw.
"Still They Remember Me": Penobscot Transformer Tales, Volume 1 by Carol A. Dana, Margo Lukens and Conor M. Quinn: The 13 stories in this collection of traditional Penobscot tales — originally told by storyteller Newell Lyon to anthropologist Frank Speck, who published them in 1918 as Penobscot Transformer Tales — are presented here in the Penobscot language alongside their English translations. This story cycle highlights the childhood and coming of age of Gluskabe (or Glooscap), a legendary hero of the Penobscot and other Wabanaki tribes. It offers a vital look into the language, culture and wisdom of the Wabanaki, or Peoples of the Dawn — for there is no understanding the "essence" of Maine without acknowledging the depth of their connection to the land that was stolen from them.
A Story of Maine in 112 Objects: From Prehistory to Modern Times edited by Bernard P. Fishman: For this history of Maine in objects, the Maine State Museum selected and photographed 112 artifacts and specimens from its collection, a wide-ranging assortment that includes a 295 million-year-old tourmaline crystal, a 4,000-year-old bone fishhook, a Confederate pistol surrendered to Union volunteer regiment commander Joshua Chamberlain at the Battle of Gettysburg, the earmuffs invented by Chester Greenwood, a Passamaquoddy canoe seat back, archaeological finds from Malaga Island, German prison-of-war snowshoes and L.L.Bean hunting boots. Together, these items span prehistoric times to the present to tell an epic story of Maine's diverse land and people.
Nominated by Grace Cavalieri, poet laureate of Maryland
Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000 by Lucille Clifton: This volume of poetry, published in 2000, includes unknown history of southern Maryland, rendered through the eyes of Lucille Clifton, a beloved and acclaimed former poet laureate of Maryland. Clifton, a Black woman and mother of six children, wrote of slavery and history and made her humanity emblematic for others with poetry. In Blessing the Boats -- which won the National Book Award for poetry — the boat is life's journey, the water is our transition.
Chesapeake: A Novel by James A. Michener: The Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries have 11,684 miles of shoreline, but only two states border it: Maryland and Virginia. James Michener's 1978 book about the bay is significant to Maryland, presenting historical families between the years 1583 and 1978. It depicts early wars between European settlers and Native American tribes, the tobacco trade and slavery. The richest narratives include detailed descriptions of geography, wildlife and botany where the environment is a character, and major themes include corruption and exploitation, including the Watergate scandal. Chesapeake is the definitive book about a force of nature that made Maryland the important state it is.
Nominated by Sharon Shaloo, executive director at the Massachusetts Center for the Book
Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver by Mary Oliver: Mary Oliver's poetry looks at — and then through — our built world to explore what it means to live in and with the natural world, particularly on Cape Cod. In her poetry, she follows the tradition of other Massachusetts authors, from Emerson, Dickinson and Thoreau through Henry Beston, E.O. Wilson and John Hanson Mitchell, as she plumbs the depths of the commonwealth to find the universal.
Ducks on Parade! by Nancy Schön: Inspired by the official children's book of Massachusetts, Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings, Nancy Schön's iconic bronze sculpture in Boston's Public Garden has become a site of public art, the fruits of which are captured in this briefest of coffee-table books. In a series of publicly sourced photographs, Ducks on Parade! captures the many outfits that artistic Bostonians have dressed the ducks in throughout the years. From summer hats to winter scarves, from the Women's March to Black Lives Matter, the ducks help Boston comment on the life of our country.
Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip's War by Lisa Brooks: In this very readable and thoroughly researched study, Lisa Brooks directs us to a more inclusive future by telling the story of people and of land, particularly in the western region of our commonwealth, through the lens of tribal history. In so doing, she helps us to understand what it has always meant, before and after the arrival of European settlers, to inhabit Massachusetts, named for a tribe who conceived of us not as the Bay Colony but instead as "the place by the range of hills."
Nominated by Laura Apol, former poet laureate for the Lansing area
Poetry in Michigan / Michigan in Poetry edited by William Olsen and Jack Ridl: This anthology contains work by Michigan poets from across the state, representing the coasts, the Lower and Upper peninsulas, the industrial urban areas and the rural farming communities. Through image and metaphor, fresh turns of phrase and insights born from close, ongoing attention, the poems in this collection offer a unique way to know Michigan's beauty, history and complexity.
The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke by Theodore Roethke: Born in Saginaw, Theodore Roethke attended the University of Michigan and taught at what is now Michigan State University. The poet wrote in and about Michigan for much of his life. His family's greenhouse often served as an inspiration in his poetry, and he is arguably Michigan's most famous (no-longer-living) poet.
Nominated by Tamara Lee, director for the Libraries and Expanded Learning division at the Minnesota Department of Education
A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota edited by Sun Yung Shin: This anthology brings together 16 authors and invites them to share their perspectives on what it is like to be a Minnesotan of color. The stories and essays in this collection, published in 2016, relate each writer's experience with honesty and integrity, weaving their lived realities into the narrative of what it really means to belong in a state where the population is more than 80% white.
Nominated by Catherine Pierce, poet laureate of Mississippi
Native Guard: Poems by Natasha Trethewey: Weaving together the history of the titular Union regiment of Black soldiers and Natasha Trethewey's own youth in Mississippi, this stunning poetry collection by the former U.S. poet laureate reckons with race, the South, memory, violence and redemption. In luminous, formally deft poems, Trethewey elegizes her mother, confronts the South's past and present, and seamlessly dovetails the vastness of history with the deeply personal moments that comprise a life.
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward: This novel, which follows 15-year-old Esch and her family, is gorgeous, gritty and unflinching, and its setting of Mississippi – with its heat and magnolias, its small towns and violent weather – truly feels like a character, as Hurricane Katrina approaches and then unleashes. Set in the fictional town of Bois Sauvage, which is based on author Jesmyn Ward's own hometown of De Lisle, Miss., Salvage the Bones is an indelible portrait of a family and its survival.
World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil: This beautiful book is a love letter to the planet, the natural world and, ultimately, to the lush landscape of Mississippi, where the author, a poet, has come to reside after a lifetime of travel. Aimee Nezhukumatathil writes that the day she arrived in Mississippi, "the tiny magnets in me lined up and snapped to attention because I was finally where I needed to be" – this "landscape full of blue sky and whirls of thick kudzu and cricket song."
Nominated by Maryfrances Wagner, poet laureate of Missouri
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: Considered one of the greatest works of American fiction, Mark Twain's classic expertly represents rural Missouri in the late 1800s – its river towns and backwoods along the Mississippi River and its people. It captures dialects of the time, some of which are preserved nowhere else in literature. And it provides a vivid picture of the dark side of human nature and offers one of the first Black heroes in American literature. Some find the book problematic, with its use of racist language and stereotypes. But Twain meant it as a satire, critical of the very things people accuse it of: racism, hypocrisy and ignorance.
Winter's Bone and Ride With the Devil by Daniel Woodrell: I recommend two books by author Daniel Woodrell. Ride With the Devil (published originally as Woe to Live on) is a Civil War novel that shows a Southern-leaning state siding with the Union. It's a layered and complex portrayal of the border war between Missouri and Kansas. Winter's Bone examines the dark side of human nature in the southern part of the state where drugs and moonshine are a way of life. In this novel, Woodrell expertly captures the lives of the poor and desperate of the Ozarks.
Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles: Also set during the Civil War, Enemy Women portrays a brutal time of pillage, house burnings and murder of innocent children, women and men. The main character, Adair Collins, lives in the Ozarks with her family, which has remained neutral in the war. After Adair is falsely accused of being a spy and put in a filthy prison, it takes courage and endurance to survive. Although the book is fiction, extracts from relevant records, letters, memoirs and war documents precede each chapter.
The King of Kings County by Whitney Terrell: A vital novel about racism in Kansas City, The King of Kings County is inspired by the story of land developer J.C. Nichols, whose real estate deals divided and intentionally segregated Kansas City, and the creation of the suburban empire of Johnson County, Kansas. It, along with another of author Whitney Terrell's books, The Huntsman, brings to life racial issues in the greater Kansas City area.
Nominated by Mark Gibbons, poet laureate of Montana
Perma Red by Debra Magpie Earling: Montana is a big state with a varied landscape and sparsely populated by Indigenous people and generations of immigrants who came to strike it rich, to farm the plains, or do the labor of resource extraction. I chose Perma Red because it has no equal. You will be mesmerized by the poetically intimate prose, the realistically graphic details of life on a Montana Indian reservation, and the humor, love and pain you'll experience through these richly drawn, honest characters. As another of Montana's greatest writers, James Welch, put it: Perma Red "borders on mythic ... a wonder-filled gift to all."
Nominated by Matt Mason, Nebraska state poet
Nebraska Poetry: A Sesquicentennial Anthology edited by Daniel Simon: This book is a rich, new compilation of Nebraska poetry covering 150 years in a well-gathered collection that pays strong attention to our current poets. The book is a great introduction to Nebraska poets ranging from Willa Cather and John G. Neihardt to Stacey Waite and Sarah McKinstry-Brown. The poets are as diverse as the landscape, meaning people often expect something uniform from Nebraska and are surprised to find that when they get just a few miles away from the interstate, there's an amazingly rich geography.
Watching The Perseids: The Backwaters Press Twentieth Anniversary Anthology edited by Cat Dixon and Michael Catherwood: This is a collection by one of my favorite Nebraska presses, and it showcases a number of great poets published throughout the last 20 years. These poems cover the different Nebraska landscapes of city, fields and sand hills, bringing them to life by poets heavily influenced by all three (and more).
Nebraska: Poems by Kwame Dawes: This is a fantastic book by a poet who has transplanted himself to Nebraska and comes to see Nebraska's landscape and feel in the broader world. It's a fantastic exploration of memory, place and art. What I love is the view of Nebraska through Dawes' contrast, coming from Ghana and having lived in Jamaica. With different landscapes and seasons, he gives a rich and beautiful account of what it means to be here.
Nominated by Gailmarie Pahmeier, poet laureate of Nevada
How the Light Gets In: New and Collected Poems by Kirk Robertson: Andrei Codrescu has called the late poet Kirk Robertson "the djinn of the desert," and Willy Vlautin wrote that Robertson's poems are "dipped into the heart of the West, both what it used to be and what it is today." I wholeheartedly agree; Robertson's poetry made me see how our starkly beautiful desert is both brutal and tender. His work led me to make this place my home.
Sweet Promised Land by Robert Laxalt: First published in 1957, this book continues to inspire Nevada writers and those who visit our state. This book is a tender and moving account of the author's Basque heritage and his love of our state. Before you enjoy a traditional meal at one of Nevada's historic Basque restaurants, first read this. Its first sentence, in all its elegant simplicity, will have you hooked: "My father was a sheepherder, and his home was the hills."
Literary Nevada: Writings from the Silver State edited by Cheryll Glotfelty: Published in 2008, Cheryll Glotfelty's deeply researched anthology of Nevada literature remains the best source for an introduction to the literary arts in our state. If someone is planning a road trip through Nevada and the American West, this is the book to have. At every stop, there will be a voice to hear, a story told.
Nominated by Alexandria Peary, poet laureate of New Hampshire
Our Nig: Or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black by Harriet E. Wilson: It's a novel that powerfully illustrates the injustices of racism and indentured servitude likely based on the author's similar experiences in Milford, N.H. The book is the first novel published in North America by an African American woman (a statue commemorating Harriet E. Wilson can be seen in Milford). The book asks visitors to New Hampshire to remember that the reach of racism and slavery didn't just stay in the American South but was found in those all-white 19th century farmhouses still standing, the ones beside historic town ovals and graveyards.
Seeking Parmenter: A Memoir of Place by Charles Butterfield: A lyrical and personal investigation of the landscape of New Hampshire, infused with the author's keen insights about the nature of change. Wilderness takes on a new context and that classic New Hampshire farmhouse seen in a passing vehicle becomes the center of a powerful and personal saga. The book speaks powerfully to what it means to know a place — to stand between the seismic shifts of history and environment, between the past and the future.
Nominated by Susan Justiniano, poet laureate of Jersey City
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz: Growing up in Paterson, N.J., Junot Díaz captures the essence of a bilingual, rough neighborhood with colorful characters, where laughter and tears were separated by a single breath. New Jersey has embraced the diversity of neighborhoods that maintained culture and history as if still in their motherland. These pockets of communities are how I grew up. Learning from neighbors about life, all of the romanticized and raw bits that leave their mark.
New Jersey Noir edited by Joyce Carol Oates: This anthology is a collection of stories from all around New Jersey and is a representation of the richness of experiences with a twist: It's not all glass skyscrapers and clouds. This anthology gives voice to stories that don't make polite society, as most of us urban Jersey kids wouldn't. It's a thrilling read that brings shadows to life.
Nominated by Amy Schaefer, Southwest Collection librarian at the New Mexico State Library
My Penitente Land: Reflections on Spanish New Mexico by Fray Angélico Chávez: The author writes with a poetic style that transports readers into the austere, yet mesmerizing New Mexico landscape while beautifully illustrating New Mexicans' religious and cultural complexity. Just like our state, this work will inspire conversation, debate and disagreement over New Mexico's and New Mexicans' history.
The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols: Set in the fictional town of Milagro, N.M., John Nichols' book gives readers an incredibly funny, yet poignant experience of poor, hard-scrabble, rural New Mexicans' battles against encroaching threats against their rights, land, water and way of life.
Querencia: Reflections on the New Mexico Homeland edited by Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez, Levi Romero and Spencer R. Herrera: This work is a deep dive into what it means to be from a place, and to be deeply tied to and love a landscape. It includes both powerful personal meditations and well-researched studies showing a wide variety of perspectives regarding what it means to be a New Mexican.
Nominated by Willie Perdomo, poet laureate of New York
Jazz by Toni Morrison: Early in Toni Morrison's novel there is a sentence that reads, "But I have seen the City do an unbelievable sky." City with a capital C. Morrison captures the beauty, mystery and grandeur of Harlem at night with a single sentence. The City, in her prose, becomes a bonafide character worthy of a loving embrace and indelible memory.
Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas: This classic autobiography by Piri Thomas captures Spanish Harlem after the Great Depression. The book opens with a poem spoken (hollered, really) by a young Piri from a rooftop. He tells the world that he's "a skinny, dark-face, curly-haired, intense Porty-Ree-can." This self-affirmation sets off a journey toward manhood that is unforgettable, undeniable and transformative. Down These Mean Streets is a certified New York City classic.
Nominated by Jaki Shelton Green, poet laureate of North Carolina
North Carolina: Land of Water, Land of Sky by Bland Simpson: A stunning account of not only the majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains of the Appalachian range, sprawling forests and the enchanted crests of the Atlantic coastline, but also its people: our stories, identities, histories, sufferance, memory, vision and the ancestral energy that remains inside of our communities. North Carolina, like many states, has a layered and complex culture. Bland Simpson has written a compelling love letter to our entwined "goodliest land" amplifying our collective appreciation for the sanctuary of home and kinship.
Nominated by Shari Mosser, literacy specialist at the North Dakota State Library
Dakota Attitude: Interviews from Every Town in North Dakota by James Puppe: The author traveled to every town in North Dakota to talk to 617 people about their lives. From the sailor who was on the USS Hornet for the splashdown of one of the Apollo capsules to the mother who had 21 children in 21 years, these vignettes of North Dakota life will leave you smiling.
The Round House by Louise Erdrich: A brilliant chronicler of Native American life, Louise Erdrich's story takes place on an Ojibwa reservation in North Dakota. In this haunting, powerful novel, Erdrich tells the story of a family and community nearly undone by violence. This intricately layered novel not only untangles our nation's history of moral and judicial failure, but also offers a portrait of a community sustained by its traditions, values, faith and stories.
Nominated by Wendy Knapp, state librarian and director of the State Library of Ohio
A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib: This book is an insightful look at the author's perspective of life as seen through Black performers and through the lens of growing up in Columbus, Ohio. The world is so much smaller than it once was, and sharing in so many pop culture moments gives everyone a chance to find common ground with others from various geographic or demographic backgrounds. Hanif Abdurraqib's storytelling ability transports the reader throughout time as the chapters invoke performances with enough detail and emotion that it feels as though they are being performed live.
The Last Laugh by Mindy McGinnis: Set in a small Ohio town, The Last Laugh is the telling of a suspenseful few days in the lives of two teenagers connected by geography and family, yet skewed by trauma and addiction. Ohio's position in the epicenter of the national opioid epidemic makes the struggle through the delirium feel real. This young adult novel speaks to the complexity that life brings and the overwhelming weight that can come from being in high school. It can easily be read as a stand-alone, though it is a sequel.
Nominated by Andrea Wittmer, head librarian, Ohio State University at Mansfield
Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small-Town Life by Sherwood Anderson: Cultural attention in Ohio often highlights the "tri-C's": Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. While we love those places, there's more to us. Published in 1919, Winesburg covers less cosmopolitan ground through timeless short story vignettes of various citizens. Themes of rural malaise, poignant spiritual struggles, communal bonds and alienation still resonate in places that seem not to change — and everywhere else.
The Ceely Rose Murders at Malabar Farm by Mark Sebastian Jordan: This little-known story has it all: murder, obsession, madness, societal failure. It chronicles the life and crimes of Ceely Rose, who, in 1896, poisoned her family to death after fixating on a neighbor boy. What follows is an excavation of historical attitudes toward mental illness and disability and whether a similar crime would yield different outcomes today. The Rose house still stands on the grounds of Ohio's famous Malabar Farm State Park, itself a source of literary intrigue.
Nominated by Joe R. Kreger, poet laureate of Oklahoma
Tears of Sorrow, Tears of Joy by Granvil L. Hays: Subtitiled "a woman struggles for independence in the Oklahoma Territory," the book is a well-researched historical novel that has much to say about the pioneering characters of those who contributed to the building of our state.
Nominated by Anis Mojgani, poet laureate of Oregon
So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away by Richard Brautigan: While I would offer up William Stafford as the poet who best presents Oregon overall, Richard Brautigan is the Pacific Northwest poet I found first. He's generally more associated with San Francisco, but this novel takes place squarely in Oregon and is connected to his childhood in Eugene. While it has been many years since I have read it, it is a book I loved, and I think it captures the melancholic sweetness that can run through much of what it means to be in Oregon — how this place's grayness is drenched in a wet beauty and carries with it an often deep sadness, something So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away tenderly hands out to its reader.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin: Ursula K. Le Guin is probably Oregon's most celebrated author. The Left Hand of Darkness, while not very Oregonian in itself, was a very important book for me to read, and I think one that everyone should. I read this book while I was living here in Portland, Ore., and at a time when my relationship to this place was both cementing itself further and blossoming in different ways than it had previously. So for me it is always tied to this state I live in.
Nominated by Susan Banks, deputy secretary of libraries and state librarian
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon: Written as a young man recently moved from Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon's coming of age novel captures the sometimes ambivalent spirit of the city and the student experience in the southwestern Pennsylvania urban center.
Wieland, Or, The Transformation: An American Tale by Charles Brockden Brown: Published in 1798 and set in the second half of the 18th century, in the area just north of Philadelphia, this Gothic novel offers a glimpse of life in early America, as well as many surprising and sensational scenes.
Two Trains Running, Fences, The Piano Lesson, etc. by August Wilson: Pittsburgh native August Wilson's plays take me to a time and place that is familiar and, yet, also a whole different world.
Nominated by Susan Justiniano, poet laureate of Jersey City
Puerto Rican Poetry: An Anthology from Aboriginal to Contemporary Times edited by Roberto Márquez: This anthology reads like a history book and should be, in my opinion, a must-read for Puerto Rican cultural studies. This book captures the essence of the struggles of the past and present in a way that embraces cultural shifts, sacrifices, artistic endeavors and the deep, deep love that all Puerto Ricans (even NJricans like me) have for La Estrella del Caribe. This book of Puerto Rican poetry embraces and celebrates our roots, ancestors and the traditions that make Puerto Rico home.
Nominated by Tina Cane, poet laureate of Rhode Island
A Key into the Language of America by Roger Williams: This primer published in 1643 by Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, remains an important document about his relationship with the area's Native tribes and the Narragansett language. Williams hoped that this book would facilitate communication between Europeans and Native people. It offers an intriguing glimpse intro that fraught and pivotal time.
A Key into the Language of America by Rosmarie Waldrop: This is a fascinating poetry companion to the primer by the same title written by Rhode Island's founder, Roger Williams, in 1643. Based on Williams' guide to the Narragansett language and Native cultures, Waldrop (originally from Germany) explores her own relationship to the English language and American culture, as well as attendant issues of imperialism, conquest and gender.
Nominated by Marjory Wentworth, former poet laureate of South Carolina
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd: Based on real people, the abolitionist Grimke sisters from South Carolina, it tells the story of courageous women who fought the established slave-holding society they were born into to make the world a better place. It's a book that will inspire readers to follow their better angels. Exquisite writing, as always, by Sue Monk Kidd.
Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball: This book is so powerful that after Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley read it, he decided we needed an African American Museum here. He is about to see that dream come true. It's a book thatreminds all of us of our interconnected histories. It's also a fascinating historical account of the state.
Ukweli: Searching for Healing Truth, South Carolina Writers and Poets Explore American Racism edited by Horace Mungin and Herb Frazier: The deep, unhealed wounds created by the trans-Atlantic slave trade remain today. Charleston, the busiest and most lucrative slave port in the country, is now a major tourist destination. This book tells the truth about the legacy of racism that permeates our history. By telling the truth through multiple voices and perspectives, Ukweli can help all Americans heal.
Nominated by Kristy Creager, buyer and bookseller at Mitzi's Books in Rapid City, S.D.
Rattlesnake Under His Hat: The Life and Times of Earl Brockelsby by Sam Hurst: While this is a biography of Earl Brockelsby, it highlights the ingenuity of South Dakotans. Rattlesnake Under His Hat calls attention to the tourism in the Black Hills and the glory of surrounding areas such as the Badlands.
The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson: This book illustrates the social injustice suffered by the Indigenous people of South Dakota. Diane Wilson does so with a saga of a family whose quality of life is reduced by law and encroachment but rebounds with resiliency, reconnection and healing.
Nominated by Trent Hanner, reference librarian at the Tennessee State Library
The Tall Woman by Wilma Dykeman: Published in the early 1960s, this novel depicts the hardships of life in the mid-1800s from the perspectives of an Appalachian woman. While Tennessee contains three grand divisions — each with its own cultural, geographic and political identity — The Tall Woman encapsulates what many of the state's pioneer women would have experienced during the period.
A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor: This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about family tensions and memory is set against the backdrop of the state's long-competing cities, Nashville and Memphis. In the book, the tensions between the state's grand divisions are characterized in the conflicts and drama of a Tennessee family.
Nominated by Athena N. Jackson, University of Houston Libraries dean
Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke: This enjoyable crime fiction by native Houstonian Attica Locke does a good job of grappling with racial politics in east Texas. Darren Mathews is a Black Texas Ranger who returns to his hometown to investigate the murders of a Black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman. The area's history of racism is subtly depicted through Locke's thorough rendering. Themes of conspiracy, lies and denial are smartly woven throughout the story, and the lush and eerie Piney Woods setting heightens the tension. Bluebird, Bluebird won the 2018 Edgar Award for best novel.
The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry: A novel about a movie house and the starry-eyed yet down-to-earth residents who are trying to save it, The Last Picture Show is pure Larry McMurtry. More than that, the novel represents the quintessential 1960s small town of north-central Texas, McMurtry country, and the clash between old and new, past and future, the familiar and the unknown. Read the book, then watch the movie.
Nominated by Laurie Covington, librarian and member of the Houston Public Library's executive leadership team
Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger: Nothing is more quintessentially Texas than the dreams and community involvement surrounding high school football. This epic tale, set in the West Texas town of Odessa,captures the experiences of the Permian Panthers, the winningest high school football team in Texas history. This book inspired both a hit TV show and a movie.
On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed: On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger announced the end of legalized slavery in Galveston, Texas. One hundred and fifty-six years later, Juneteenth became an official federal holiday celebrated throughout the United States. Native Texan Annette Gordon-Reed explores the origins of Juneteenth, the narrative of African Americans — including her own experiences attending a desegregated school — and complex public significance of Juneteenth as a national holiday.
Nominated by Paisley Rekdal, poet laureate of Utah
Seasons: Desert Sketches by Ellen Meloy: Utah is a state of extreme landscapes, and any writer here has had to contend with the desert. Ellen Meloy was an illustrator, river guide and a self-taught writerwho also became a beloved contributing essayist to Utah Public Radio. Her work considering the environment and our relationship to it garnered her a slew of awards, including a Whiting Award and the John Burroughs Medal Award; she was a 2003 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She's not as known as she should be; nevertheless, her work beautifully captures some part of Utah's wild places.
No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith by Fawn Brodie: Fawn Brodie's biography is probably one of the most controversial, if influential, studies of Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS Church. It helped establish Mormon history as its own scholarly field and led to a flurry of critical responses. It's a book that continues to influence how people see the culture — and the state — most attached to Smith's legacy.
Red Water by Judith Freeman: I adore Judith Freeman's writing, and Red Water is one of her finest books. It's a historical novel about the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, in which a band of Mormons and — maybe — Native Americans massacred 120 immigrants to the Utah territory — a savage attack blamed on John D. Lee, one of Brigham Young's confidants. The novel is told by one of Lee's many wives, and it swiftly becomes a story of cultural violence, polygamy, misogyny, betrayal, race and assimilation. The Mountain Meadows Massacre is one of the most significant events in Utah and Mormon history. This novel is a great entry point into learning about its violent legacy on this state.
Nominated by Mary Ruefle, poet laureate of Vermont
The Wild Iris by Louise Glück: One of the country's finest poets, Louise Glück was living in Vermont when she wrote The Wild Iris, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993. Vermonters tend to be obsessed with their gardens, but in her book, Glück reveals our obsession with the deeper anxieties that lie hidden inside the beauty of a bloom.
Nominated by Sandra Treadway, librarian of Virginia at Library of Virginia
Monticello in Mind: Fifty Contemporary Poems on Jefferson edited by Lisa Russ Spaar: Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, is one of the most visited places in Virginia, and Jefferson is one of the most important yet complex figures in Virginia — and American — history. His life embodies the best and the worst in our past. This poetry collection grapples with Jefferson's legacy in meaningful ways, featuring the work of 50 incredibly talented modern poets.
Virginia: A Guide to the Old Dominion by the Virginia Writers' Project: First published in the 1940s as part of the New Deal's Federal Writers' Project series of American state books, this is still an invaluable guide to the people, places and history of Virginia. It offers rich detail about every region of the state that still rings true today. The photographs of mid-20th century Virginia — its people, historic buildings and sites, and its natural beauty — help visitors appreciate how much has changed in the past 80 years and, yet, how much remains the same.
Virginians and Their Histories by Brent Tarter: This is the most recent and most inclusive book on the history of Virginia. It tells the story of Virginia's people from the earliest times to the start of the 21st century — exploring the lives of Virginians coming from different backgrounds, eras and regions and their roles in the creation — and progress — of the state on political, social and economic levels.
Nominated by Rena Priest, poet laureate of Washington
Indians of the Pacific Northwest: From the Coming of the White Man to the Present Day by Vine Deloria Jr.: Indians of the Pacific Northwest, by Vine Deloria Jr., presents a perspective rarely available to readers in search of stories about the place they've come to call home. It provides a glimpse into the history, cultures and lives of the Indigenous peoples who have called this place home for more than 10,000 years. Deloria undertook extensive research and, for a time, became fully integrated with regional tribal communities to tell the neglected story of how Washington tribes have managed to survive generations of unjust and genocidal campaigns leveled against them by newcomers to their homelands.
The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest by Timothy Egan: What we know to be the very first book about Washington state, The Canoe and the Saddle, was published in 1863. It was written by Theodore Winthrop as a travel diary, documenting his experience as one of the first white men to tour the region. In 1990, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Timothy Egan published The Good Rain, which takes us on a tour through the same landscape, now ecologically devastated, presenting only a hint of the paradise described by Winthrop. In The Good Rain, Egan offers a thorough and candid account of the changes wrought by 127 years of Euro-American occupation.
Nominated by Karen Goff, executive secretary, West Virginia Library Commission
Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Fiction and Poetry from West Virginia edited by Laura Long and Doug Van Gundy: I polled the West Virginia Library Commission librarian corps — there are so many favorites. But this compilation of samplings by a who's who of West Virginia writers is a wonderful illustration of the complexity of the state and its literary landscape.
Nominated by Ben Miller, director of Library Services Team at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold: First published in 1949 and containing an introduction by Barbara Kingsolver in a newer edition, A Sand County Almanac is not only an observation of nature in Wisconsin, it is a contemplation of our place in nature.
Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal by Patty Loew: In this book, Patty Loew explores the tribal histories of the state's Native peoples. The story of Indian nations is essential to understanding Wisconsin and its people.
Tomboyland by Melissa Faliveno: This book describes rural Wisconsin through essays designed to question gender norms, class affiliation and coming of age. Especially impactful is the essay that centers on the "Finger of God" tornado in southern Wisconsin in 1984.
Nominated by Lucas Fralick, program coordinator of Wyoming Humanities
The Virginian by Owen Wister: For many, Owen Wister's The Virginian established the myth of the West and Western pulp fiction. Wyoming walks the dichotomy between the myth and our reality: Wyoming turns to the myth for tourism and great stories, but we ultimately find that keeping to the myth holds us back and becomes something that we cannot shake off even today. The Virginian is a great snapshot of Wyoming's past and present struggle with our relationship to the myth of the West.
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