There are a ton of great books coming out this year, and one of my goals is to read more from small presses and university presses. It used to feel like university presses published mostly dry academic books, but that’s changed over the years. There are a lot of really great books coming out of these presses, especially if you’re interested in a geographic area or cultural phenomenon. Small presses are also putting out some wonderful things this year, and I love stumbling on a small press I hadn’t known about and discovering all of their cool publications. Alongside the books coming out of bigger publishing houses, there are a lot of books I’m really excited about in the next few months from small presses and university presses—both fiction and nonfiction. These are a few of them.
Delicate Aggression: Savagery and Survival in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop by David O. Dowling (March 26)
Put out by Yale University Press, you know by that title that some major tea is going to be spilled with this book. I read this in two or three days because I just couldn’t stop. It’s densely packed with information and well-researched, and each chapter focuses on a major writer who passed through the Workshop, like Flannery O’Connor, Sandra Cisneros and Joy Harjo, Anthony Swofford, Ayana Mathis, and much more. I’m not sure I would have done it that way, but it provided a personalized look at a variety of different issues in the program. As someone who also experienced a competitive MFA environment, I found this book disturbing and compelling all at once, and think it’s incredibly important to hear the stories and feedback these authors have given about the program. If you’ve ever been interested in MFA programs or even just Iowa’s infamous workshop, this is a must-read.
Mothers and Strangers: Essays on Motherhood from the New South edited by Samia Serageldin and Lee Smith (April 1)
Disclaimer: this was put out by UNC Press and as a Tar Heel who loves nearly anything Carolina, I had high hopes going into this, especially because I love Lee Smith. And I wasn’t disappointed. This was another one I read in one or two sittings, because the essays and pieces in this book were so fascinating and the voices were so vibrant. Stories about growing up, changing relationships with mothers, becoming a mother, and everything in between. Belle Boggs, Omid Safi, Jaki Shelton Green, Jill McCorkle, Clyde Edgerton, and others write beautifully about motherhood in the South.
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett (June 4)
This novel that I’ve heard nothing but great things about is being put out by Tin House. It’s been in my TBR pile and I just need the time to read it. When Jessa-Lynn finds that her dad died by suicide in the family taxidermy shop, she takes over, while the family falls apart. I’m looking forward to reading this book about family, grieving, and life.
Mitochondrial Night: Poems by Ed Bok Lee (March 5)
This book of poetry is being published by Coffee House Press, and from the description of it on Amazon, it sounds positively beautiful. Lee “explores familial and national legacies, and their persistence across shifting boundaries and the erosions of time.” I don’t read a ton of poetry, so when I do, I often find that I need to really be captivated by it—and this has captivated me. I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.
Appendix Project: Talks and Essays by Kate Zambreno (April 23)
Zambreno’s latest, published by Semiotext(e) and distributed by The MIT Press, is slim but packs a hefty intellectual punch. This is a collection of 11 talks and essays that were done in the year after the publication of Book of Mutter, which was her book about Zambreno’s mother. There are examinations of art and grief and other artists, just to name a few. I’ve only started this one, but I’m always impressed with Zambreno’s critiques and thought processes and this is no different.
The Seed: Infertility is a Feminist Issue by Alexandra Kimball (April 30)
A friend of mine told me about this book because she knows about my interest in maternal-child health issues, and I am so glad Coach House Press is publishing this. The jacket copy compares Kimball and this book to Eula Biss’s On Immunity, which makes me even more eager to read this. Kimball mixes memoir and personal experience with reportage and analysis of cultural, historical, and social aspects of reproductive rights, infertility, and feminism. When only a handful of states mandate insurance coverage for infertility services, this book feels more necessary than ever before.
Do you read any books from university presses or small presses? Which are your favorites?