Humanities Texas is pleased to share our annual summer reading feature! This year we asked our fellow humanities councils from around the country to suggest works that capture the spirit of their states. Their diverse suggestions, from fiction to nonfiction and classics to new releases, show the literary riches to be found across the nation. Take a cross-country trip this summer without leaving your reading nook by exploring the list below.

Girl in the Hammock by Winslow Homer, 1873. The Lunder Collection, Colby College Museum of Art.


Laura Anderson, director of operations at Alabama Humanities Foundation

Hints and Pinches: A Concise Compendium of Herbs, Spices, and Aromatics With Illustrative Recipes and Asides on Relishes, Chutneys, and Other Such Concerns (2001 edition), by Eugene Walter

For true summer reading—the kind one takes to the lake or beach or back deck to briefly escape matters heavy on one's mind—consider Eugene Walter's Concise Compendium of Aromatics, Chutneys, Herbs, Relishes, Spices, and Other Such Concerns. Mobile, Alabama, native Eugene Ferdinand Walter (1921–1998) was at various times a novelist, a poet, an essayist, an actor, a designer, and a philosopher. He penned this collection of facts about "mysteries of the table" in his style so that the reader learns a great deal of history and legend of the Gulf Coast and Mobile Bay areas, not to mention other fascinating people and places the world over (many unknown or lost to history—"characters" as my family would say). Adding to the escape are Walter's original illustrations, including King Garlic, Queen Onion, and lots of cats.

Books about Eugene Walter are fun to read, too. Fortunately, the 2001 edition of Hints & Pinches includes a preface written by Eugene Walter about himself, along with an extra treat—a foreword by Southern Foodways Alliance director John T. Edge celebrating Walter's rich way with language and decidedly non-provincial approach to the lifelong study of his hometown. If all this makes you want to see and hear the author, take in the documentary film Eugene Walter: The Last of the Bohemians


Staff at California Humanities

Highwire Moon, by Susan Straight

Serafina is an undocumented migrant worker living in California when the police catch her and send her back to Mexico—without her three-year old daughter. Twelve years later, with a pair of silver barrettes as her only tangible memory of Elvia, Serafina begins a harrowing journey back across the border to find her daughter.

Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm, by David Mas Masumoto

A memoir of one critical year in the life of an organic peach farmer, Epitaph for a Peach tells the passionate story of one farmer's attempt to rescue one of the last truly sweet and juicy fruits from becoming obsolete in a world that increasingly values commerciality over quality. A third-generation farmer, David Mas Masumoto grows peaches, nectarines, grapes, and raisins on an organic eighty-acre farm south of Fresno, California. Masumoto is currently a columnist for the Fresno Bee and a regular contributor to the Sacramento Bee

Farewell to Manzanar, by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston

During World War II, a community called Manzanar was created in the high mountain desert country of California. Its purpose was to house thousands of Japanese Americans. Among them was the Wakatsuki family, who were ordered to leave their fishing business in Long Beach and take with them only the belongings they could carry. Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, who was seven years old when she arrived at Manzanar in 1942, recalls life in the camp through the eyes of the child she was.

Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner 

Lyman Ward is a retired professor of history, recently confined to a wheelchair by a crippling bone disease and dependent on others for his every need. Amid the chaos of 1970s counterculture, he retreats to his ancestral home of Grass Valley, California, to write the biography of his grandmother: an elegant and headstrong artist and pioneer who, together with her engineer husband, made her own journey through the hardscrabble West nearly a hundred years before. In discovering her story he excavates his own, probing the shadows of his experience and the America that has come of age around him. 

California Humanities also publishes its own annual summer reading list to share books that the staff are currently enjoying or hope to enjoy over the summer months.


Lisa Comstock, director of the Connecticut Center for the Book at Connecticut Humanities

The Weight of Zero, by Karen Fortunati

The very public reports of the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have brought international attention to what seems a senseless waste of life to those who do not suffer from mental illness of one sort or another. This story of a young woman struggling with bipolar disorder help readers young and old begin to get a hint of understanding about what on earth that really means and why a person would feel the need to commit suicide.

It's not as much of a downer to read as you might expect given the subject matter. High-schooler Catherine Pulaski is learning to cope with bipolar disorder while keeping her diagnosis from her peers and hiding her pain from her worried mother. She is terrified of the illness that runs her life and could ultimately claim her. You'd think that would be an almost unbearable read, but at the end of the day the message of friendship, strength, survival, and hope wins through. 


Marilyn Whittington, executive director at Delaware Humanities

I'll Be Your Blue Sky: A Novel, by Marisa de los Santos

I'll Be Your Blue Sky is a beautifully rendered story of love, family, and self-discovery that moves effortlessly back and forth between the 1950s and the present. Building on de los Santos's earlier novels, both Clare and Edith are independent, intelligent women who are unwilling to give into societal pressures.

The Saint of Lost Things: A Novel, by Christopher Castellani

Set in the tight-knit Italian neighborhood in the shadow of St. Anthony's Church, The Saint of Lost Things looks at the American dream through the hopes, dreams, and prayers of an immigrant community.


Steven M. Seibert, executive director at Florida Humanities Council

The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea, by Jack E. Davis

Davis is a professor of history and sustainability studies at the University of Florida and both disciplines are highlighted in this Pulitzer Prize-winning book. Davis brilliantly weaves issues of science, policy, and politics into a cogent explanation of how important the Gulf of Mexico is to the nation and the world. 

Son of Real Florida: Stories from My Life, by Jeff Klinkenberg

For almost four decades, Klinkenberg traveled the state, interviewing and then retelling the stories of Florida's most interesting inhabitants. A skilled journalist, Klinkenberg compiled the best and most personal stories for his most recent book, Son of Real Florida. Klinkenberg received the 2018 Lifetime  Achievement Award for Writing from the Florida Humanities Council. 

A Land Remembered, by Patrick D. Smith

If you only have the time to read one book about Florida, read Patrick Smith's novel A Land Remembered. Published in 1984, it is a mesmerizing tale of historical fiction following the lives of the MacIvey family, through the state's remarkable trajectory from the mid-1800s to 1968. We consider this book a treasure.


Kelly Caudle, vice president of strategy and programs at Georgia Humanities

Atticus Finch: The Biography, by Joseph Crespino

The recent discovery and publication of Harper Lee's novel Go Set a Watchman forever changed our perception of the iconic fictional character Atticus Finch and complicated our reading of Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, that classic of Southern literature. How are we to reconcile the Mockingbird Finch, who models kindness, empathy, and morality and who speaks for a black man when he is voiceless before the law, with the Watchman Finch, who holds abhorrent views and espouses a common racism? 

In Atticus Finch: The Biography, Emory University historian Joe Crespino uncovers the man behind the literary figure: Harper Lee's father, A. C. Lee. In this fascinating examination of the life of A. C. Lee and the making of his fictional counterpart, Crespino helps us better understand the mid-twentieth-century culture of the South as well as the power of literature to reflect and reform our best and darkest selves. 


Robert Buss, executive director at Hawai'i Council for the Humanities

What We Must Remember: Linked Poems, by Ann Inoshita, Juliet S. Kono, Christy Passion, and Jean Yamasaki Toyama

A book of linked poems by four very talented women writers tells the story of two of Hawai'i's most notorious murders. Based on the racism of the times, the two cases of murder defined local identity in Territorial Hawai'i, and this retelling of the story through the eyes of four local women is a powerful way to reflect.

Honor Killing: How the Infamous "Massie Affair" Transformed Hawai'i, by David E. Stannard and Local Story: The Massie-Kahahawai Case and the Culture of History, by John P. Rosa

For those interested in the history of the case and its national American newspaper coverage in 1931, the best book is still Honor Killing: How the Infamous Massie Affair Transformed Hawai’i. A more recent retelling of the cultural history of the case, Local Story: The Massie-Kahahawai Case and the Culture of History, is also a great read.


Leah K. Nahmias, director of programs and community engagement at Indiana Humanities

Map to the Stars, by Adrian Matejka

Adrian Matejka wasn't the first Hoosier kid to dream about outer space. Growing up poor and biracial in Reagan-era Indianapolis, the white suburbs were a "new planet" while the space shuttle sent back glimpses of an even farther frontier. The question of how to get from here to there—Voyager II or Schwinn bike?—is threaded throughout Adrian's new collection of poetry, Map to the Stars. In these poems, Sun Ra, Richard Pryor, and Guion S. Bluford are among the many lights glimmering on the horizon, each a lodestar for navigating the earthly complexities of race, masculinity, poverty, and migration.

Matejka is the current Indiana Poet Laureate, as well as a National Book Award finalist and Pulitzer Prize nominee for his previous volume, The Big Smoke, about boxer Jack Johnson. Indiana Humanities hosted the Indianapolis book launch for Map to the Stars. You can read about the four things we learned on our blog.


Gary Sheppard, program and grants officer at Humanities Iowa

The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa: Stories, by Elizabeth Stuckey-French

These stories are set in the author's home state of Indiana and in Iowa, where she attended the famed Iowa Writers' Workshop. And they are as exuberant, angsty, and beautifully understated as any you're likely to find. Her characters are zany and spectacularly unconventional while retaining resilience despite the impending ruin they face. That is to say true Iowans. In the collection's title story, Cherry sees her children "playing divorce," which awakens her to the instability of her own marriage and charts a reckless course for adventure with a teenage gas attendant. In "Junior," thirteen-year-old Sophie St. John completes her term at reform school only to be placed in the care of her psychic aunt who forces her to be an accomplice in a lucrative but shady dog-finding scheme. And in "Leufredus," a rehab counselor lives vicariously through her already pregnant stepdaughter's love affair with a drunk who spends his days in recovery and his nights in the bar. This is a book of wonderful peculiarities, which is its own pleasure, but it also delivers wise lessons about longing and compassion.

Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper, by Art Cullen

Art Cullen won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for his editorial writing at the Storm Lake Times, a tiny twice-weekly with a circulation of just three thousand that he co-owns with his brother John, and where he works alongside his son Tom (reporter) and wife Delores (photographer/reporter). This book is a story of determination, reinvention, environmental and economic struggle, and surprising diversity in a small Iowa town. Storm Lake's people take center stage: the family that swam the Mekong River to find Storm Lake, the Latina with a baby who wonders if she'll be deported from the only home she has known, and the farmer who watches markets in real time and operates inside a relentless supply chain that seeks cheaper pork, prepared foods, and ethanol. Storm Lake may be a community in flux—occasionally in crisis—but it's not disappearing like many other Midwestern towns of similar size. In fact, its population is growing, with immigrants from Laos, Mexico, and elsewhere. Thirty languages are spoken there, soccer is more popular than football, and nearly 90 percent of students in local schools speak English as a second language. Iowa plays an outsize role in national politics—it introduced Obama and voted for Trump. Is it a bellwether for America? A nostalgic mirage from The Music Man or a harbinger of our future? Cullen’s answer is complicated but with the wry stubbornness that is still the state's, and his, dominant quality. Though Storm Lake will not be released until October 2018, this truly inspiring story of American resolve is something to look forward to.


Valerie Mendoza, director of programs at Humanities Kansas

Brown: Poems, by Kevin Young

While there are a number of books I could recommend with Kansas connections—particularly in the realm of poetry (Not Without Laughter or The Return of Simple by Langston Hughes or Annie Allen by Gwendolyn Brooks), I recommend the latest volume by Kevin Young. Brown: Poems refers to the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka desegregation case. Young devotes much of this lush, complex volume to his youth growing up in Topeka such as chapter two, "On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe." In the poem "History," Young recounts memories of his high school history class and teacher Mr. W.—a subject nearly everyone can relate to beautifully evoked. In addition to snapshots of his boyhood ideals (Ali, Ashe, Aaron), he weaves in race and current events (the shooting in Charleston and deaths of Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland) all through the larger themes of trains, music, and jazz. He titles chapter one "The A Train" in homage to Duke Ellington and has poems dedicated to musicians such as B. B. King. Young currently serves as poetry editor for the New Yorker and is director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.


Paul Doiron, vice chair of the board of directors at Maine Humanities Council

River Talk: Stories, by CB Anderson

The short stories in CB Anderson's River Talk are about Mainers: folks you went to school with and have known forever, others you hear speaking in foreign tongues on the street, newcomers, neighbors, maybe even yourself. What makes this book so special, so moving, is Anderson's passionate commitment to making all of these people not just recognizable but relatable. If you're looking for a book about the ways people in Maine actually live, now, today, you need to read this small masterpiece.

Settled in the Wild: Notes from the Edge of Town, by Susan Hand Shetterly

More than in other places, Maine people live close to nature—some by accident, others by design. Susan Hand Shetterly's collection of lyrical short essays, Settled in the Wild: Notes from the Edge of Town, is therefore a book intended for all of us. It's about watching deer drift through the field at dusk and about leaving the window open in April to hear spring arrive with the first piping of the peepers. It's about the familiar, the secret, and the strange, written by an artist whose gift it is to help us see our shared environment as we've never seen it before.


Andrea D. Lewis, program officer at the Maryland Center for the Book at Maryland Humanities

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass

Born into slavery near Easton, Maryland, Frederick Douglass was a writer, newspaper editor, fiery orator, leader within the abolitionist movement, and considered by many to be one of the most influential African Americans of the nineteenth century. One of the best-known slave narratives ever written, this memoir, first published in 1845, maps the life of Douglass from his enslavement to his freedom. In sharing his life while enslaved in gripping detail, we experience firsthand descriptions of everyday interactions that speak to the inhumanity and cruelty of bondage, alongside the dynamics of power and class that drove society. Douglass also reveals his increasing understanding of the role of education, which in part leads to his crusade for freedom. As we mark the two-hundreth anniversary of Douglass's birth this year, it seems fitting that we revisit his life through this work, which resonates with themes that remain (un)surprisingly timely.


John Sieracki, director of development and communications at Massachusetts Humanities

The Autograph of Steve Industry, by Ben Hersey

It's a bittersweet and relentlessly funny examination of the life of a lost working-class Eastern Massachusetts man in the early twenty-first century that richly reflects the values and thinking of his culture. Strap yourself in: it's a wild ride of language experimentation, often poetic, while at the same time engrossing and easy to read. Last year, I read it aloud to my partner, who then taught it to her undergrads at Amherst College, and they fell in love with it.


Shelly Kasprzycki, president and CEO at Michigan Humanities Council

The Marsh King's Daughter, by Karen Dionne

It is a complicated yet fascinating story of family dynamics, survival instincts, and the beauty of the Upper Peninsula.

The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek, by Howard Markel

What a tale of competition, brilliance, innovation, wellness, and invention. It is a long but delicious read.

The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War, by A. J. Baime

A. J. Baime is a masterful storyteller in The Arsenal of Democracy. Understanding the dynamics of war and the quest to ensure we were properly armed pitted family members against each other. Rosie the Riveter came to life in this non-fiction story.


David O'Fallon, president and CEO at Minnesota Humanities Center

The Round House: A Novel, by Louise Erdrich

An exquisitely told story of a boy on the cusp of manhood who seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family.

One of the most revered novelists of our time—a brilliant chronicler of Native American life—Louise Erdrich returns to the territory of her bestselling Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves.

Karen Louise Erdrich is an American author of novels, poetry, and children's books. Her father is German American and mother is half Ojibwe and half French American. She is an enrolled member of the Anishinaabe nation (also known as Chippewa). She is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant Native writers of the second wave of what critic Kenneth Lincoln has called the Native American Renaissance.


Stuart Rockoff, executive director at Mississippi Humanities Council

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

A powerful young adult novel (and soon to be a motion picture) that explores the issues of race relations and Black Lives Matter protests.

Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel, by Jesmyn Ward

A winner of the National Book Award that looks at race, poverty, and imprisonment in contemporary Mississippi.


Kim Anderson, director of programs and grants at Humanities Montana

Winter in the Blood, by James Welch

James Welch has long been recognized as a great American writer and his first novel, Winter in the Blood, is both an unsettling story of a young Native American man on the Fort Belknap reservation adrift between two cultures, and a lyrical portrait of one kind of Montana landscape.

Montana 1889: Indians, Cowboys, and Miners in the Year of Statehood, by Ken Egan Jr.

Montana 1889, by Humanities Montana executive director Ken Egan Jr., is the second of his innovative popular histories of the state (Montana 1864 was published in 2014). Month by month, Egan unfolds the stories of some of the state's most colorful and important figures in the year the territory becomes a state.


Erika Hamilton, director of literary programs at Humanities Nebraska

I Am A Man: Chief Standing Bear's Journey for Justice, by Joe Starita

Joe Starita tells the story of Chief Standing Bear's return to Nebraska to bury his son in their Ponca homeland after being forced to move to Indian Territory by the U.S. government. Having already faced the loss of his homeland, the death of two of his children, and the impossible situation of the Oklahoma reservation where their seeds would not grow and government-issue rations left them weak and sick, Chief Standing Bear was arrested and put on trial in Omaha's federal courthouse. There, he famously won Native Americans the right to be considered equal with U.S. citizens when he famously addressed the judge: "That hand is not the color of yours, but if I prick it, the blood will flow, and I shall feel pain. The blood is of the same color as yours. God made me, and I am a man." Starita approaches the chief's true story with journalistic excellence and personal zeal for social justice. 

My Ántonia, by Willa Cather 

Written in powerful prose that draws the landscape of Nebraska in the reader's mind, Willa Cather introduces us to one of the most winning heroines in American fiction, as seen through the eyes of her unrequited younger admirer, Jim Burden. Ántonia Shimerda is a young daughter of a Bohemian immigrant who is driven to suicide by the vast loneliness of life on the Nebraska prairie and inability to provide for his family. Ántonia and Jim's lives run parallel, first on neighboring farms and then in town when they each move there: Jim to go to school and Ántonia to work as a cook and housekeeper. Relying on her own robust high spirits and unflappable strength, Ántonia triumphs over both natural and human hardships. Her joy in living and her ability to find value in work that others would dismiss as meaningless mark her as the embodiment of American pioneers.


Susan M. Hatem, director of programs and grant making at New Hampshire Humanities

Either The Beginning or the End of the World, by Terry Farish

The small coastal city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, flows through this novel like the river that flows through the city's harbors and coves into the Atlantic Ocean. Either The Beginning or the End of the World, though, takes you to a Portsmouth that many tourists would not see, from the fisherman's co-op to Atlantic Heights, a community of tiny brick townhouses built during WWI to house shipbuilders, to Caffe Kilim, the local coffee place on Islington Street. In this city, Either the Beginning or the End of the World, "examines the intersections of love and war in a family's history" as an American Library Association reviewer writes.

Sofie, the daughter of a hardscrabble fisherman and a Cambodian immigrant, falls into love with a young Army medic returned from Afghanistan. Raised by her father alone on the New Hampshire Seacoast, she "grew up a tall Scottish girl—my father's side—who chanced to have Cambodian eyes." With the soldier, Sofie journeys into her own heritage of war. "I don't want you for ancestors. I don't want that story," she tells her mother when she listens to the truth of the Khmer Rouge regime. But it flashes bright, like a monk in his saffron-colored robe in New Hampshire snow. Through Cambodian myth, ocean lore of a fisherman's family, and the awe of love, Sofie is drawn into extraordinary worlds she had not imagined. 

This crossover young adult/adult novel also brings the reader into the life of a New England fisherman trying to survive in an industry facing tighter and tighter regulation. You meet Johnny through his daughter's eyes, and see how she watches the leaves of the trees to predict the wind and her father's return from the sea.

Bustle writes, "Author Terry Farish's stories about refugees and immigrants have been informed by her extensive work with the Red Cross in Vietnam, and you can feel that raw, authentic care given to her characters in Either the Beginning or the End of the World. It's a love story, but it's also a story of generations of a family, each affected by war and loss in their own ways." Farish is also the author of the award-winning novel in verse The Good Braider, a story of a girl's journey out of war in South Sudan to Maine.


Gigi Naglak, director of grants and programs at New Jersey Council for the Humanities

In the Unlikely Event, by Judy Blume

Judy Blume is always a go-to. She has not lived in New Jersey for quite some time, but she grew up in Elizabeth, and many of her books take place in the Garden State, including the 2015 adult novel In the Unlikely Event, which is a fictionalized account of events that took place in her hometown in the late 1950s.

Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen

Of course, who would not enjoy Bruce Springsteen's autobiography, Born to Run. In all seriousness, his lyrics are not the only place that Springsteen excels as a writer—the book is very well-written and he comes across as a perfect combination class clown and class act.

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Super Power, by Brittney Cooper

Cooper is a professor at Rutgers New Brunswick. Her book focuses on black women's feminism, with a particular emphasis on how anger from black women is misinterpreted and intentionally misrepresented by feminists and non-feminists alike. She places her argument in the context of academic feminist thinking, but the book is accessible and compelling (rather than stuffy and academic), consistently readable, and often hilarious.


Antonio Pontón-Núñez, development officer at Humanities New York

When I Was Puerto Rican: A Memoir, by Esmeralda Santiago

This memoir chronicles Santiago's life as a young girl in Puerto Rico and her leaving to New York City. Following the recent events in Puerto Rico, including Hurricanes Irma and Maria and the forced migration of more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans to the mainland USA, the book resonates now more than ever.


Pat Williamsen, executive director at Ohio Humanities

Furnishing Eternity: A Father, a Son, a Coffin, and a Measure of Life, by David Giffels

Midway through Furnishing Eternity, David Giffels observes "I'd just gotten blood—my own blood—on a coffin—my own coffin." It's a ghoulish remark about the macabre activity of building one's own coffin while still in the prime of life. But Giffels's editor intuits that Furnishing Eternity "isn't really a book about a coffin. . . ." Poetic, bittersweet, filled with wry observations, Furnishing Eternity explores family bonds, loss, grief, and lives well lived: "The future is the past crashing through the present, and it never stops crashing." Furnishing Eternity is Giffels's most personal memoir to date—a generous gift to us all as we encounter the inevitable events that define the human condition. David Giffels is an associate professor for the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts Program at the University of Akron.


Ann Thompson, executive director at Oklahoma Humanities

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann

Oklahoma Humanities recommends Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann. This nonfiction book recounts the lengths to which unscrupulous, murderous individuals went to cheat Osage Indians in Oklahoma from their oil rights. Oklahoma Humanities recently funded community programs based on the book, at which the author spoke, but even more importantly, the Osage Tribe told its history. Descendants of those murdered were able to have a voice. The book not only addresses these appalling injustices but also recounts the murder investigations by the nascent FBI. 


Adam Davis, executive director at Oregon Humanities

The Residue Years, by Mitchell S. Jackson

Mitchell Jackson's The Residue Years is a crackling and sad portrait of a family striving to make it in a changing Portland. It's a gripping and head-shaking read.


Sonya Canetti, director of the regrants office at Puerto Rican Endowment for the Humanities

José Pinta a la Virgen and Pauet quiere un violonchelo, by Carmen L. Rivera-Lassen

For those who read Spanish, I share two fabulous titles from the university of Puerto Rico Press, José pinta a la Virgen and Pauet quiere un violonchelo, which are respectively the childhood stories of Puerto Rican eighteenth-century master portraitist José Campeche and of world class Catalan cellist Pablo Casals, who lived in Puerto Rico for many years. Both books are by Carmen Leonor Rivera Lassén and beautifully illustrated by Mrinali Alvarez. Both are fun and interesting books to introduce children to the history of the arts and especially of great figures of our Hispanic cultural heritage. They are also make a fantastic tool to promote further independent research and appreciation of both artists.

En busca del Maestro Rafael Cordero / In search of The Master Rafael Cordero, by Jack and Irene Delano

For those who do not read Spanish, I suggest another excellent children's book in its bilingual edition: En busca del Maestro Rafael Cordero / In search of The Master Rafael Cordero. Cordero was an Afro-Boricua free man, a self-taught teacher who established a free school for children in his house. He taught all children regardless of race and social status. There he taught reading, calligraphy, mathematics, and religious instruction. Among the distinguished alumni of Maestro Rafael are abolitionists Román Baldorioty de Castro and José Julián Acosta. Cordero kept his school opened for fifty-eight years at Luna Street in Old San Juan. His sister, Celestina Cordero Molina, was also a great teacher, and had a school for girls at the time. These Afro-Puerto Rican brother and sister are pioneers of the cause for public education and access to learning for all. The book on Maestro Rafael was first initiated by the great illustrator Irene Delano. After her death, the book was finished by her beloved husband, Jack, a musician, filmmaker, and a brilliant photographer. The couple first came to Puerto Rico when Mr. Delano was hired to be part of a project for the Farm Security Administration and made the island their home.


Elizabeth Francis, executive director at Rhode Island Council for the Humanities

Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution, by Charles Rappleye

This story of early Rhode Island gets at the relentless drive and moral contradictions at the center of the formation of American democracy. Against a rich historical backdrop, Sons of Providence traces the different paths that brothers Moses and John Brown took regarding slavery as they built a trading and manufacturing empire. The book helped me realize that it is not possible to separate ideals of religious tolerance from the consequences of the slave trade.


Jo Angela Edwins, member of the board of directors at South Carolina Humanities

The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature, by J. Drew Lanham

Lanham's book describes his growth as a naturalist and lover of the land through the lens of the place he grew up, his family farm outside Edgefield, South Carolina. The book beautifully describes the natural world of Lanham's upbringing, the complex cultural heritage his African American family of farmers passed on to him, and the decline of the family farm as a way of life in America. The Home Place also explores what it means to be an African American in a scientific field dominated by whites. Lanham is a biologist at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina.


Serenity Gerbman, director of literature and language programs at Humanities Tennessee

A Summons to Memphis, by Peter Taylor

If Thomas Wolfe tells us we can't go home again, this novel believes that we can never really get away from home. Philip Carver left Memphis as a young man and has lived in Manhattan for decades as a collector and dealer of antiquarian books when he is called home to Memphis by his two sisters. A crisis has developed around their aging father, and so home he goes. The novel is about family, and how we reconcile ourselves to it—or don't. The culminating act of the book is a surprise punch in the gut, unexpectedly sudden and painful. 

A Summons to Memphis won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1987. Taylor grew up in Memphis and Nashville, and this novel is Tennessee-specific right down to the difference in social strata based on street names, invisible to the outsider's eye. However, its nostalgia is not for a particular time and place, but for those fleeting moments that turn out to be significant upon reflection. It's this that gives the novel its timeless quality. A Summons to Memphis will be appreciated by readers of Eudora Welty, William Maxwell, or, more currently, Brad Watson. 


John Kerr, chair of the board of directors at Humanities Texas

The Which Way Tree, by Elizabeth Crook

Elizabeth Crook's The Which Way Tree is a remarkably original story set in the Texas Hill Country just after the Civil War. Narrated by a teenaged boy who witnessed an atrocity committed by Confederate soldiers and a terrifying attack on his mixed-race sister by a mountain lion, the novel combines elements of Moby Dick and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in a fascinating tale.  

G. Hughes Abell, secretary of the board of directors at Humanities Texas

The Great Deluge, by Douglas Brinkley

Having grown up in Louisiana and with family and friends in New Orleans, I watched with more than casual interest as Hurricane Katrina drew a bead on New Orleans. Over the course of a week, I watched as, for once, the weather event was as bad as advertised. Then, it was over. Most of us not directly involved or affected moved on. It was only after a chance visit with Douglas Brinkley (professor of history at Rice University in Houston) this spring that I suddenly felt the need to retreat and read The Great Deluge for an historical look back at the catastrophe that was Katrina. Once I started, I could not put it down.

With The Great Deluge, published in 2006, Brinkley addresses several key themes, in no particular order or rank of impact, but in a very orderly way nonetheless. The author describes the physical characteristics of the Lower Mississippi and New Orleans, which was naturally predisposed to inundation in the event of a major storm, and how the natural and man-made alterations in the basin had made it all the more vulnerable. He further illuminates the nature of the storm, how it developed, and how it came ashore to unleash its fury. He outlines the history of the design and construction of the levees and flood control structures, followed by a lack of funding and misappropriation of funds meant to care for and update the system over the years preceding Katrina. Then, having set the stage, Brinkley addresses in detail the response and reaction of the many people responsible for just what to do when "The Big One" arrived. In brief, that preparation and response from many of the local, state, and federal officials fell way short.

Finally, Brinkley reports on the citizens of New Orleans, describing the tragic loss of loved ones, personal hardships, financial loss or total ruin, and a shattered society. He describes violence and a breakdown of human behavior and the inability or disinterest of those charged with maintaining order to deal with such hardships. Thankfully, he was also able to write about the many heroic, unselfish, and devoted individuals—both private citizens and public servants—who gave their all to help their fellow citizens and society. Brinkley's chronicle provides a comprehensive look at a complex natural and man-made catastrophe.

Michael L. Gillette, executive director of Humanities Texas

God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State, by Lawrence Wright

Lawrence Wright's new book, God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State, is an incisive examination of Texas's history, music, politics, culture, literature, and diverse regions. But it is also much more. Readers join the Pulitzer Prize-winning author as he encounters some of the state's most powerful, most gifted, and most ethically-challenged personalities. We accompany Wright to such remarkable destinations as the San Antonio missions, Roy Hofheinz's suite in the Astrodome, Willie Nelson's motor coach, and S. H. Griffin No. 4. Along the way, the author candidly shares defining moments from his own extraordinary life—all in Wright's beautifully crafted narrative.


Michael McLane, director of the Utah Center for the Book at Utah Humanities Council

Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, by Edward Abbey

2018 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first publication of Desert Solitaire. Part philosophy, part poetry, part environmental creed, Abbey's extended meditation on the Western landscapes surrounding him during his three seasons spent as a ranger at Arches National Park has now stirred three generations of readers to seek out the wild places in Southern Utah and beyond. In fact, it may have worked a little too well, as the solitude that Abbey found there in the 1960s has given way to throngs of tourists, which at times grow so large they clog the roads and stall park operations. Because of this, and increased industry on nearby lands and throughout the West, his call for conservation remains as relevant as it was fifty years ago.


Ryan Newswanger, director of communications at Vermont Humanities Council

In the Fall: A Novel, by Jeffrey Lent

This enthralling novel touches on the legacy of race and the Civil War in rural Vermont, New Hampshire, and North Carolina as seen through several generations of a single family. Lent skillfully weaves together the strands of three stories from three different eras. The middle story takes place in Barre, Vermont, which is also the setting of our 2018 Vermont Reads book, Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson.

A River Trilogy: A Fly-Fishing Life, by W. D. Wetherell

This collection of three books of essays includes the now out-of-print Vermont River, an appreciation and elegy for the Waits River in northeastern Vermont—"the lyric, fragile Waits, my home river." Excellent writing about sports is about much more than sports alone, so I believe Vermont River will appeal to anyone who loves wild and/or beautiful places, not just people who fly-fish. But those who do fish will really love this book.


Jessica Becker, director of digital content at Wisconsin Humanities Council

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Kimmerer beautifully braids stories from her life as a mother, a botanist, a professor, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. The essays, or vignettes, are clustered progressively in sections called planting sweetgrass, tending sweetgrass, picking sweetgrass, braiding sweetgrass, and burning sweetgrass. One of my favorites is titled "Learning the Grammar of Animacy." It is a humorous and humble story about learning to speak a new language and all that is revealed about culture and oneself through language. For Kimmerer, the lessons come while learning Potawatomi, an Anishinaabe language. She writes, "Now my house is spangled with Post-it notes in another language, as if I were studying for a trip abroad. But I’m not going away, I’m coming home."

Language is important to Kimmerer. Her words flow, making this an easy read, though the ideas are deep and held up with solid science. Quoting her commencement speech at Northland College, where she received an honorary degree, Kimmerer says that gratitude reminds us "we are not alone in the world [and] that our very existence relies on the gifts of others." So if this recommendation strikes you at the right moment, then consider it a gift and read up. Braiding Sweetgrass is a perfect story for summer.

Meg Turville-Heitz, grant program director at Wisconsin Humanities Council

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, by Dan Egan

As we were planning Wisconsin's Water Future, our Beyond The Headlines program in Madison, I kept hearing mention of several books related to water issues that I'm very much enjoying—if you can use "enjoy" about stories with such dark themes running through them. Dan Egan's The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, University of Wisconsin-Madison's latest Big Read selection, tells a highly readable and compelling history of the Great Lakes. I'm only a few chapters in and already a theme of decision-making made based on cheapest and quickest, without much research or thought to long-term impacts, is playing out. Such decisions led to the arrival of multiple invasive species in the Great Lakes that have collapsed fisheries and imperiled ecosystems.

Gail Kohl, development director at Wisconsin Humanities Council

The Driftless Reader, ed. by Curt Meine and Keefe Keeley

Do yourself a favor this summer and pick up The Driftless Reader, edited by Curt Meine and Keefe Keeley. It is a wonderful selection of excerpts of literary, journalistic, and scientific writings created to present a beautiful mosaic of the region. The Driftless Area is a rugged land, reaching into four states. It has been home to an extraordinary group of people: Ho-Chunk, Sauk, Dakota, Norwegian farmers, Dominican nuns, Buddhist monks, Cornish miners, African American barn builders, Hmong and Amish farmers, Shakespearean actors, and more. 

There are eighty texts in the book, including the writings of Mark Twain, Frank Lloyd Wright, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Aldo Leopold, David Rhodes, Fabu, Wallace Stegner, Patty Loew, Pedro Guerrero, John Muir, and so many more—Native people, explorers, historians, scientists, and poets. There are also maps, paintings and illustrations scattered throughout this beautiful book.  

One of my all-time favorite books, The Land Remembers by Ben Logan, is excerpted and sums up, for me, why the best way to understand this region is by looking at it through different lenses. Logan wrote, "There is no neat and easy way to tell the story of a farm. A farm is a process, where everything is related, everything is happening at once. It is a circle of life; and there is no logical place to begin a perfect circle. This is an unsolved paradox for me. Part of the folly of our time is the idea that we can see the whole of something by looking at the pieces, one at a time. Yet, how else tell the story of the farm?" That is the best way to enjoy this reader: one story at a time. It is a rich and delicious read on a summer day or anytime throughout the year!


Erin Pryor Ackerman, director of grants and community programs at Wyoming Humanities

Cowboys and East Indians: Stories, by Nina McConigley

Wyoming is known for its landscapes and, in traditional Westerns, for the cowboys who effortlessly navigate that land. The people in McConigley's short stories—geologists, immigrants, widows, college students—find that navigation more difficult, often struggling to reconcile their expectations of a place with the reality. But that space between expectation and reality also provides moments of connection, kindness, humor, and insight. In these stories we see how places, often in Wyoming, shape people's behavior and sense of self in unexpected ways. This collection, winner of the PEN Open Book Award, is well worth your time, whether or not you make it to the least populous state in the nation.