book covers from the Memory and Modernity reading list

Rion Amilcar Scott and Vinson Cunningham will discuss Scott’s new short story collection, The World Doesn’t Require You, at PEN Out Loud on September 10. In anticipation of their conversation, here are 17 genre-spanning works—memoir to short story to poetry, and more—that consider power and memory in relation to contemporary and historical spaces.


The World Doesnt Require You by Rion Amilcar Scott

The World Doesn’t Require You, Rion Amilcar Scott
This exhilarating collection of short stories shatters genres as PEN America Literary Award-winner Scott populates fictional Cross River with an unforgettable cast of characters. With its raw edge and creativity, The World Doesn’t Require You establishes Rion Amilcar Scott as a powerful contemporary voice in American fiction.


Insurrections by Rion Amilcar Scott

Insurrections, Rion Amilcar Scott
Set in the fictional town of Cross River, Rion Amilcar Scott’s PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize-winning novel Insurrections transports readers into the lives of individuals in an African-American community. Through commanding prose, Rion Amilcar Scott delivers unrelenting stories that excavate the complexities of human nature.


What Doesnt Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker, Damon Young
The latest from writer and editor Damon Young, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker chronicles the author’s life as he struggles with his identity as a Black man in America. From his teenage years to adulthood, this story is one of yearning to be understood.


Go Ahead In The Rain by Hanif Abdurraqib

Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes on a Tribe Called Quest, Hanif Abdurraqib
Abdurraqib’s third book, Go Ahead in the Rain, is a passionate love letter to A Tribe Called Quest in which he lyrically unspools the band’s history. Hip-hop fans and non-hip-hop fans alike will find humor, wit, and astounding lyricism in this collection.


Heavy by Kiese Laymon

Heavy: An American Memoir, Kiese Laymon
An autobiography that is both provocative and meditative, Heavy: An American Memoir investigates what it means to grow up Black in America. Tackling relationships, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and gambling, this book combines the societal and the personal.


A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley

A Lucky Man, Jamel Brinkley
A Lucky Man heralds the arrival of an author in full-command of language and story. From a young boy’s realization of privilege to a pair of college students with an insatiable desire, Brinkley’s characters bring depth to a world governed by race, gender, and class.


Wade In The Water by Tracy Smith

Wade in the Water, Tracy K. Smith
From former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith comes a graceful, salient collection of poetry on the historical and contemporary state of race in America.


We cast a shadow by Maurice Carlos RuffinWe Cast A Shadow, Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Longlisted for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s debut, We Cast a Shadow, is set in a near-future Southern city that is afflicted by violence. An exploration of race and the love that binds family, We Cast A Shadow is deeply reflective and moving.


Lot by Bryan Washington Lot: Stories, Bryan Washington
Bryan Washington’s short story collection, Lot, follows several characters thriving and suffering in the neighborhoods of Houston, Texas. Brilliant, expansive, and sharp, Bryan Washington is a writer to watch.


We Were Eight Years In Power by Ta-Nehisi CoatesWe Were Eight Years in Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates
A collection of essays published during the years of Barack Obama’s presidency, We Were Eight Years in Power addresses reparations, mass incarceration, and other contemporary issues in American society. Highly lauded and extremely necessary, Coates has crafted a work of nonfiction that will continue to inform us for years to come.


Speaking Of Summer by Kalisha Buckhanon

Speaking of Summer, Kalisha Buckhanon
Set in modern Harlem, this powerful thriller seeks to reveal truth despite injustice. When Autumn’s twin sister, Summer, goes missing and the authorities do little to investigate her case, Autumn takes matters into her own hands.


The Yellow House by Sarah Broom

The Yellow House, Sarah M. Broom
This highly anticipated debut memoir follows multiple generations of a New Orleans family investigating their home in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the storm’s power to scatter their family and loved ones across the country. The house is a testament to survival, as it bears witness to the passage of time and the seeds of change.


How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi

How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi
In a book that demands to be heard, Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be an Antiracist is a searing criticism that challenges and educates readers on the intricate history and legacy of racism. By recognizing the myths and taboos that often cloud judgment, this book helps identify and challenge the seeds of racism.


Heads Of The Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Heads of the Colored People: Stories, Nafissa Thompson-Spires
This sweeping short story collection examines the pressures associated with being a person of color, navigating stereotypes, and what it means to exist with a marginalized identity in our contemporary world. Playing with language and form in inventive and surprising ways, this collection won the 2019 PEN Open Book Award and will keep readers deeply engaged.


Looking For Lorraine by Imani Perry

Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry, Imani Perry
Winner of the 2019 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography, Imani Perry’s biography, Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry, recounts the life of playwright and civil rights activist Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin in the Sun, and her journey in becoming a prominent figure in American literature.


Dear Martin by Nic StoneDear Martin, Nic Stone
A powerful commentary on racial and social injustice, Nic Stone’s novel, Dear Martin, follows the life of student Justyce McAllister and his struggles following an arrest by a police officer. As stated by best-selling author John Green: “A powerful, wrenching, and compulsively readable story that lays bare the history, and the present, of racism in America.”


Monument by Natasha Trethewey

Monument: Poems New and Selected, Natasha Trethewey
Monument examines the history of African-American women in this country, and the ways we talk about race and gender. A former U.S. Poet Laureate, Trethewey weaves resistance into joy, trauma into strength, and tells her own story while reminding us of our own.