Wordplay Essential Reading Guide

It’s an exciting time for Midwestern bibliophiles. The complete list of authors for The Loft Literary Center Wordplay festival— Minnesota's largest celebration of readers, writers, and great books—has been announced and the lineup is being called, “the Coachella of Book festivals.” You can see the full list of festival authors here.

Not only is Wordplay a great place to find beloved literary legends, but it’s the perfect place to discover all different kinds of authors that will be dazzling your shelves and awards lists for years to come. Below, we’ve curated a reading guide to highlight some of the essential titles of Wordplay 2019 with books for everyone! There’s memoir (Inheritance by Dani Shapiro), horror (The Outsiders by Stephen King), fantasy (Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James), young adult (There's Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon), and many many more. Check out our list to see what book might be the perfect fit for you, and gear up to see these incredible authors this coming May 11-12th!

If you like vivid and unflinching memoir,  read Mitchell S. Jackson’s Survival Math

An electrifying, dazzlingly written reckoning and an essential addition to the national conversation about race and class, Survival Math takes its name from the calculations award-winning author Mitchell S. Jackson made to survive the Portland, Oregon of his youth. This dynamic book explores gangs and guns, near-death experiences, sex work, masculinity, composite fathers, the concept of “hustle,” and the destructive power of addiction—all framed within the experience of Jackson, his family, and his community.

If you like middle grade fantasy read, Anne Ursu’s The Lost Girl

Author of the National Book Award nominee The Real Boy, Ursu returns with a story of the power of fantasy, the limits of love, and the struggles of growing up. Centering on twin sisters Iris and Lark, the book chronicles their separation in fifth grade and a number of strange occurrences connected to a dark and dangerous secret that could separate the twins forever. As intriguing as it is eerie, this imaginative tale is told from the point of view of a crow, who observes Iris’s actions and emotions as she faces life and peril for the first time without her sister.

If you are craving a gripping genetic detective memoir, read Dani Shapiro’s Inheritance

From the acclaimed, best-selling memoirist and novelist Dani Shapiro comes an exploration of the urgent ethical questions surrounding fertility treatments and DNA testing, along with a profound inquiry of paternity, identity, and love. A book about secrets, this memoir tells the story of a woman’s urgent quest to unlock her own identity, something that has been scrupulously hidden from her for more than fifty years.

If you love a page-turning legal thriller, read Scott Turow’s Testimony

From the bestselling author of Presumed Innocent comes Testimony, Scott Turow’s most twist-filled thriller to date. Set in a treacherous post-war Bosnia, this tightly paced thriller is at once a story of middle-aged angst, an exposition of international law, and an exploration of an intensely serious and very nasty episode in recent history.

If you like profound and deceptively funny poetry read, Morgan Parker’s Magical Negro

A catalog of contemporary folk heroes, an ethnography of ancestral grief, and an inventory of figureheads, idioms, and customs, Magical Negro is a riveting testimony to everyday blackness. Focused primarily on depictions of black womanhood alongside personal narratives, the collection tackles the interior and exterior politics of both the body and society, and both the individual and the collective experience. 

If you love Stephen King, you should probably read more, like Stephen King’s The Outsider

An unspeakable crime. A confounding investigation. An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. At a time when his brand has never been stronger, King has delivered one of his most unsettling and compulsively readable stories to date.

If you love breathtaking retrospectives of poetry, read Natasha Trethewey’s Monument

In her new and selected poems, two-time U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Trethewey draws together verse that delineates the stories of working class African American women, a mixed-race prostitute, one of the first black Civil War regiments, and mestizo and mulatto figures in Casta paintings. Layering joy and urgent defiance against physical and cultural erasure, and against white supremacy whether intangible or graven in stone, Trethewey’s work gives pedestal and witness to unsung icons. Inlaid and inextricable throughout the collection winds the poet’s own family history of trauma and loss, resilience and love.

If you love gripping myth and fantasy, read Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf

In this stunning follow-up to his Man Booker-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James draws on a rich tradition of African mythology, fantasy, and history to imagine an ancient world, a lost child, an extraordinary hunter, and a mystery with many answers. A tapestry of breathtaking adventure through a world at once ancient and startlingly modern, James explores the fundamentals of truth, the limits of power, the excesses of ambition, and our need to understand them all.

If you love charming, funny, romantic YA novels, read Sandhya Menon’s There's Something About Sweetie

The irresistible companion novel to the New York Times bestseller When Dimple Met Rishi, There's Something About Sweetie follows Rishi’s brother, Ashish, and a confident, self-proclaimed fat athlete named Sweetie as they both discover what love means to them. A thoroughly delightful romance featuring a spirited, confident, and lovable heroine and an unexpectedly dashing romantic hero.

If you love meditations on place and travel, read Pico Iyer’s Autumn Light

Autumn Light is a far-reaching exploration of Japanese history and culture, and a moving meditation on impermanence, mortality, and grief. For years, Pico Iyer has split his time between California and Nara, Japan, where he and his Japanese wife, Hiroko, have a small home. But when his father-in-law suddenly dies, calling him back to Japan earlier than expected, Iyer begins to grapple with the question we all have to live with: how to hold on to the things we love, even though we know that we and they are dying.