What San Antonio Writers Are Reading This Season

click to enlarge From left to right: Courtesy of Harper Collins Publishers; Courtesy of Four Way Books; Courtesy of The University of Arizona Press
From left to right: Courtesy of Harper Collins Publishers; Courtesy of Four Way Books; Courtesy of The University of Arizona Press

On the beach or on a bench, the Texas heat is best perhaps beat with a cool read. With this in mind, we asked some of San Antonio’s most prominent literary figures what they will be reading this summer. 

Current Poet Laureate Jenny Browne plans to read a mix of old and new works. Her list includes Dante’s Inferno, Lidia Yuknavich’s The Book of Joan and The Ninety-Nine Stories of God by Joy Williams. “I am pretty much always reading several collections of poetry at once,” says Browne, who sees summer as a time try to catch up on all the novels and nonfiction she might have missed. Other books on Browne’s list include: Something Sinister by Hayan Charara, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, and American Purgatory by Rebecca Gayle Howell.

In anticipation of the city’s 300-year birthday, as well as a UTSA seminar he will give in the Fall, John Phillip Santos finds himself “in a deep mytho-historical San Antonio groove.” The author of The Farthest Home Is in an Empire of Fire: A Tejano Elegy is reading Gerald Poyo’s Tejano Journey (1770-1850) and Jesús de la Teja’s San Antonio de Béxar: A Community on New Spain’s Northern Frontier. From psycho-geography to UFOlogy, the eclectic aesthetics prominent in Santos’ work are just as obvious in his reading list, which includes Manfredo Tafuri’s Architecture and Utopia, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, as well as  Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, and Mark Booth’s The Secret History of the World.

According to activist/author Barbara Renaud Gonzalez, “the summer is for traveling, both literally and imaginatively.” Her list of essentials includes All They Will Call You by Tim Z. Hernandez, With the River On Our Face by Emmy Perez , and Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott. As far as children’s books go, the author of the recent collection Las Nalgas de JLo suggests anything from Enchanted Lion Press, but especially Bertolt by Jacques Goldstyn.

Nan Cuba, author of When Horses Fly and Body and Bread, will be reading Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout, LaRose by Louise Erdrich, and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Aside from engaging in fiction such as The Schooldays of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee and The Leavers by Lisa Ko, the Gemini Ink founder will make time for A Grace Paley Reader as well as Sheila Black’s poetry collection Iron, Ardent.

Andrew Porter, Director of the Creative Writing Program at Trinity, is really looking forward to reading Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay, which he describes as “probably the book I’m most excited to read this summer.” Porter is similarly enthused about Adam Haslett’s  Imagine Me Gone as well as The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti, Cities I’ve Never Lived In by Sara Majka, and Ill Will by Dan Chaon.

Though her leisure reading has been greatly limited due to all the time that goes toward researching her recent historical novels, Leila Meachan, author of the sagas Roses and Somerset, recommends A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks.

Amalia Ortiz, a three-time PuroSlam poetry champion and author of Rant. Chant. Chisme, recommends The Tecate Journals by Keith Bowden, The University of Hip-Hop by Mayda Del Valle, The Last Cigarette on Earth by Benjamin Alire Saenz and Mi Revalueshanary Fren by Linton Kwesi Johnson, a writer who in 2002 became the sole black poet to be published in Britain’s Penguins Classics series. “As an admirer of Spanglish,” says Ortiz, “I recognized many parallels in Johnson’s Jamaican Creole English.”

Author of more than 20 books, 2015 Texas Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla is into Margaret Atwood. Having loved Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, which Tafolla sees as “way too recognizable to not be eerie and a warning sign of dangers ahead,” she has started reading The Handmaid’s Tale. Aside from the speculative social commentary in Atwood, the books at the top of Tafolla’s stack are Imaniman: Poets Writing in the Anzalduan Borderlands, Far from Home by Na’ima Robert, and Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World. The author of The Holy Tortilla and a Pot of Beans also intends to read at “least one truly inspiring children’s book a week” to offset any dystopia overload.

Wings Press publisher Bryce Milligan is currently reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s Beren and Luthien. According to Milligan, who has reviewed almost every post-Silmarilion Tolkien book released, the story of the first-ever elf and mortal connection “essentially set Tolkien’s imagination in motion, which gave rise to his world-building, language-crafting, and tale telling.” Milligan, a musician as well as all around man-of-letters, will be reading three Texas music books this summer: Pickers & Poets: The Ruthlessly Poetic Singer-Songwriters of Texas by Craig Clifford and Craig Hillis; Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark by Tamara Saviano, and A Perfectly Good Guitar: Musicians on Their Favorite Instruments by Chuck Holley. With an eye toward writing a children’s books based on the playful side of Emily Dickinson, Milligan is rereading her works as well as some Dickinson-related material. 

Aside from poetry “by everybody,” poet and novelist Naomi Shihab Nye is currently reading Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, which she describes as “a most haunting novel.” The author of Transfer and Fuel also recommends Megan Staffel’s The Exit Coach, Lost Geography by Charlotte Bacon, and I, Who Did Not Die by Zahed Haftlang, Najah Aboud and Meredith May, a book about friendship amid the Iran/Iraq war which takes its very title from one of Nye’s poems. As for summer reading advice, Nye says: “I recommend everybody go to the library and find a book you never heard of to fall in love with.”

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