Looking for a great nonfiction read this summer? Want some inspiration for your own writing? National Magazine Award winning writer and our Nonfiction Contest judge, Alicia Elliott, has a couple must-read recommendations to get you started!
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (Penguin Random House) – This book is about the passing of Didion’s husband, but it’s also about ritual, death, grief, life. It blends memoir and reportage in a way I’d never seen before I read it, making an unquestionable case for the fluidity, beauty, and ingenuity of CNF.
Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin (Penguin Random House) – James Baldwin is a masterful writer with so much insight to offer. His writing still feels as vital and relevant today as it did when he first published it. This collection of essays examines race in America with a humane eye and a penetrating mind. Even his profile on Ingmar Bergman is incredible.
Dirty River by Leah Laksmi Piepzna-Samarsinha (AK Press) – This memoir is not an easy read, but most great art isn’t. Piepzna-Samarasinha writes about the intricacies of identity and trauma so carefully, without exploiting herself and her pain – but also without shying away from harsh realities. Dirty River is a miracle of craft that needs to be experienced first-hand.
Swing Low: A Life by Miriam Toews (Penguin Random House) – In this book, Toews dealt with the loss of her father by writing his memoir from his first-person perspective. Even in a genre called “Creative Nonfiction,” you don’t get much more creative than that. With empathy and love, Toews chronicles her father’s life as he deals with family, depression and the weight of expectations in Mennonite Manitoba.
Alicia Elliott (@WordsandGuitar) is a Tuscarora writer living in Brantford, Ontario, where she worries she may one day die. Her writing has been widely published – most recently by Room, Maisonneuve, Grain, The New Quarterly and The Malahat Review. She has a monthly column with CBC Arts, and her essay “A Mind Spread Out on the Ground” won Gold for the 2017 National Magazine Award. She’s currently working on a collection of short stories and dealing with the fact that her only daughter is nearly a teenager.