by T. Christian Miller & Ken Armstrong, 2018
In 2008, Marie was raped. She reported the crime to the police, but because there were inconsistencies in her story and because someone close to her expressed doubt, the police told her she was lying and convinced her to recant her accusation. She was charged with filing a false report, made to explain her actions to the fellow residents who lived in the housing complex subsidized by a nonprofit that helped foster children in transition, and spent years dealing with the subsequent court case. In 2011, Marie’s photo was found on the camera of a Colorado man who was charged with raping several other women. Marie had been telling the truth.
by Elie Wiesel, 1972
translated from the French by Marion Wiesel
This is one of the most affecting pieces of literature I’ve ever read. Elie Wiesel was 15 in 1944 when the Nazis entered Hungary and he and his family were moved into concentration camps. Separated from his mother and sister, it was not long after that he and his father were moved to Auschwitz and Buchenwald, some of the most infamous concentration camps of the war. Wiesel’s treatise is, in a word, harrowing. His short, direct manner of writing (perhaps due in part to the translation) gives a stark portrait of some of the greatest evil known to mankind. Night is an exceedingly difficult book to read and, despite being barely more than 100 pages, was one that I found I could only consume in short bursts. However, it is one of the most necessary books that I have ever had the opportunity to encounter and it is imperative that we continue to read this story and hold this terror close to our hearts.
by Helen Macdonald, 2015
When Helen Macdonald suddenly lost her father, she turned to her lifelong love of falconry for comfort. She found herself dreaming of hawks, and she recalled the moment when, during her work at a bird-of-prey center, she witnessed a female goshawk being set free: “She disappeared over a hedge slant-wise into nothing. It was as if she’d found rent in the damp Gloucestershire air and slipped right through it.” It is an appropriate metaphor for Macdonald’s grief, and it is one she will turn to over and over again as she as attempts to understand this wild beast that seems untamable. H Is for Hawk is Macdonald’s account of her days with Mabel, the goshawk, and the myriad of ways in which this wild beast set her free.
by Joby Warrick, 2015
One of the things committing to reading prize-winning books has done is force me to read books on subjects I would normally overlook. I would have never picked up the Wayward Children series because it’s fantasy, and I doubt I would have ever gotten around to reading Evicted, even though the subject matter does interest me. Black Flags is another book I would have never endeavored to read, were it not for its having won the Pulitzer Prize, but, in this case, I think I would have been just fine not having picked this one up. Call me an ignorant American, but I only have a certain amount of mental and emotional energy to spend on the world’s ills and ISIS is not close enough to me to make the cut. Don’t get me wrong – to say they’ve committed terrible acts would be an understatement, but I’m more worried about someone walking into the school where I work and shooting up the joint. That’s just the world I live in at the moment. (Is that privilege? Yes. Yes it is.)
by Paul Kalanithi, 2016
There has been an enormous amount of press surrounding neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi’s memoir of his terminal cancer diagnosis at the age of thirty-six. Making the press even more poignant is the knowledge that the book was published after Kalanithi’s death. This wasn’t a memoir from someone writing years later, who looked death in the face and vowed to beat it. This was from a person who looked death in the face and did the only thing they could: accepted it. It’s not by any means an easy topic to grapple with, but Kalanithi’s clear, direct writing renders this difficult journey one that should not be missed.
by Toni Morrison, 1992
To round out my Year of Toni Morrison, I thought I would dip into one of her nonfiction books. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination is a compilation of three lectures on, you guessed it, whiteness in literature. This is a topic I’ve often pondered myself, as you can walk into any bookstore and find an “African-American” or “Hispanic” or “Asian” section, but there is no “White” section. While finding a “White” books section would be, no doubt, horrifying, the truth is that it does not exist because white is considered to be the default and every other race or ethnicity is positioned as the other. “African-American” is a demographic, not a genre, and yet we treat these authors – and readers – as if it were. “Until very recently, and regardless of the race of the author, the readers of virtually all of American fiction have been positioned as white,” she writes. “I am interested to know what that assumption has meant to the literary imagination.” Me too, Ms. Morrison. Me too.
by Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2017
“Required reading” is a phrase I’ve been using a lot these days, but it’s still the phrase I would use to describe the writings of Ta-Nehisi Coates. It was with bated breath that I placed a hold on his new book a month prior to its publication and I gleefully picked it up from the library on the day it was released. I had thoroughly enjoyed Between the World and Me and was excited to get my hands on this collection of essays. Now, perhaps because I had just read Michael Eric Dyson, whose dynamism cannot be matched, or perhaps because I had such pent up anticipation, which never leads to anything but disappointment, I found I was less enamored of this book than I expected I would be. I hadn’t realized this wouldn’t be new material and, accordingly, it did not attack the subject manner in the way I had assumed it would. I don’t read The Atlantic, so while the material was new to me and I was glad to be able to access it in a collected volume, I felt that they didn’t quite come together to paint a cohesive picture. But, there is still so much to be gained from Coates’s words and I will argue with anyone that his voice is a necessary one in our world today.