The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Fog by Dakotah Jennifer


Silence

At first the silence was so small,
I could always hear it but never could stop it from breaking.
Then the silence was so loud,
I almost couldn’t talk over it.
it would smother my voice until it was only affirmation.
And then came a haunting silence, that only I could hear, a monster,
dressed as something gruesome, that turned out to be me.
After that the silence was small again but, not in the same way.
It was small in the way a bomb is before it explodes.
Then, a silence unexpected,
A polite silence, that filled the room with questions and
uncomfortable tension.
This is when the silence changed into something else all together.
The silence was not only mine,
It was every woman’s, every black and brown child’s, the oppressed
with the oppressor’s hand sealed over their mouth and nose.
Then a silence for only me,
A silence that I was born into,
A bloody, birth of a silence,
It stumbled out of my mother’s womb and planted itself in my
favorite blanket.
And finally, at last,
A noise,
A sound
Louder than the loudest silences
Finally,
Me,
Laughing as loud as I could
And no one saying a
word.

This selection comes from Fog, available from Bloof Books. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Shannon Wolf.

Dakotah Jennifer is a twenty-year-old black writer currently attending Washington University in St. Louis. She started writing poetry at eight and has loved it ever since. Jennifer has been published in Across the Margin, HerStry, Popsugar, The Pinch Journal, Protean Mag, Apartment Poetry, Paintbucket.page, The Grief Diaries, The Confessionalist Zine, Oral Rinse Zine, and Ripple Zine. She was accepted into the Juniper Writing Workshop at Amherst and the Writing Workshops Paris with Carve Magazine for the 2021 year. She won Washington University’s Harriet Schwenk Kluver award for the 2018-2019 year. Her first chapbook, Fog, is published with Bloof Books, and her second chapbook/zine, Safe Passage, was recently released with Radical Paper Press.

Shannon Wolf is a British writer and teacher, living in Louisiana. She is currently a joint MA-MFA candidate in Poetry at McNeese State University. She is the Non-Fiction Editor of The McNeese Review and Social Media Intern for Sundress Publications. She also holds an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Her poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction (which can also be found under the name Shannon Bushby) have appeared in The Forge and Great Weather for Media, among others. You can find her on social media @helloshanwolf.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Fog by Dakotah Jennifer


Ode to Sitting With My Legs Uncrossed

after Ross Gay

And sure,
It is not the way to
Be a woman or
Polite
But I do often sit
With my legs free of each other
Just to feel my skin breathe.
Or so that the blood keeps rushing to
Every limb and does not
Discriminate. Like maybe
I sit this way so that
When they find
Me,
I’m already on my way to standing
With my hands kissing
The sky.
My legs stay free
Just in case my body cannot. For
If metal sears through meat
In anything but a kitchen in Baltimore
Where my mother still wants her child kicking
Rivers will redden under
My touch. From god
I get only the wish to keep both feet on the floor
in fear of
not running and
It’s almost a reason to
smile
when I don’t strangle my legs and still call
It womanhood.

This selection comes from Fog, available from Bloof Books. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Shannon Wolf.

Dakotah Jennifer is a twenty-year-old black writer currently attending Washington University in St. Louis. She started writing poetry at eight and has loved it ever since. Jennifer has been published in Across the Margin, HerStry, Popsugar, The Pinch Journal, Protean Mag, Apartment Poetry, Paintbucket.page, The Grief Diaries, The Confessionalist Zine, Oral Rinse Zine, and Ripple Zine. She was accepted into the Juniper Writing Workshop at Amherst and the Writing Workshops Paris with Carve Magazine for the 2021 year. She won Washington University’s Harriet Schwenk Kluver award for the 2018-2019 year. Her first chapbook, Fog, is published with Bloof Books, and her second chapbook/zine, Safe Passage, was recently released with Radical Paper Press.

Shannon Wolf is a British writer and teacher, living in Louisiana. She is currently a joint MA-MFA candidate in Poetry at McNeese State University. She is the Non-Fiction Editor of The McNeese Review and Social Media Intern for Sundress Publications. She also holds an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Her poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction (which can also be found under the name Shannon Bushby) have appeared in The Forge and Great Weather for Media, among others. You can find her on social media @helloshanwolf.

Project Bookshelf: Abigail Renner

I’ve come to the realization that buying books and reading them are two entirely different things. I like to think of my bookshelves as aspirational; like my Goodreads account, there will always be more “to be read” books than “read” books on my shelves. Until I can get around to reading them all, it’s comforting to merely be surrounded by my beloved, growing collection.

Before there was a pandemic, when I roamed freely in Washington, D.C., you could either find me at the farmers’ market or wandering around a local bookstore, like Bridge Street or Second Story Books. When I moved back home with more books than I left with, I had to get creative with space. Thus, “bookshelf” has become a word entirely up to my own interpretation. 

 In my room, heavy classics live in the only real bookshelf I have, lighter paperbacks magically float on the wall, robust hardcovers are stacked on the floor, slim poetry collections are crammed into the nooks and crannies of my desk, nonfiction makes a neat perch for my plants, and novels with pretty spines sunbathe near the window.

What I loosely consider classics are carefully arranged by the color of their spines. They include my treasured copy of The Count of Monte Cristo, David Copperfield, and all of the Jane Austen novels I could get my hands on—Persuasion is my favorite. I took a rigorous and enjoyable class called “The 19th Century English Novel,” which is where a lot of these come from. 

The harder-to-reach books accumulating dust on the bottom shelf are from my childhood years. Here, you can find formative books such as Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden, and young adult sets like Harry Potter and The Raven Cycle. These books always create a feeling of nostalgia when I look at their weathered spines, and I have to fight the urge to re-read them for the thousandth time. 

A hearty stack of Toni Morrison and James Baldwin holds the velvet philodendron I’ve been tending to since the beginning of the pandemic. Fiction was and always will be how I fell in love with reading. I’ll truly read anything written by Elizabeth Acevedo or Fredrik Backman.

Amidst the sea of fiction, my nonfiction books are often found huddling near one another. Their pages are heavily annotated and underlined. This small but mighty section contains memoirs, essays, and books on nature, prison abolition, mutual aid, communism, feminism, queer theory, disability studies, and Octavia Butler (ha, just kidding). At the top of the stack are favorite reads like Braiding Sweetgrass, Know My Name, and Sister Outsider. These books constantly expand my worldview and open my mind to new possibilities.

Poetry takes up the newest and smallest section of my room. Here, I’ve started to accumulate collections like Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith, There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker, Revolver by Robyn Schiff, and The Wild Iris by Louise Glück. I have my wonderful and trustworthy poetry professors to thank for these recommendations. I often read poetry (aloud to myself) when I’m in-between novels.

While any bit of spare money I have tends to go towards books, I also love to borrow from my local library’s shelves. I read somewhere that if libraries didn’t already exist and someone tried to invent them today, they would be condemned as too radical! I’ve also recently gotten into e-books and audiobooks, so my bookshelves extend into the digital world as well. There’s almost an embarrassing amount of romance novels in my e-bookshelves, where no one can see them except me. 

I am so terrible at giving away books; I hold onto all of them just in case, but I truly can’t find the strength to part with even the oldest and most tattered among them. The mostly jumbled stacks of books strewn across my room are the physical manifestations of my evolving loves and curiosities.

I dream of one day owning a cozy home with a green kitchen, lots of warm sunlight and plants, and enough bookshelves and surfaces to hold my ever-expanding collection.

My cat Twilight is an avid reader as well.

Abigail Renner is a junior at George Washington University studying English and American Studies. She is currently a writing consultant in her university writing center, where she loves unearthing writers’ voices and reading across a myriad of genres. She dreams of living on a farm, filling her shelves with romance novels, and laughing with friends over cups of peppermint tea.

Sundress Reads Looking for Recently Published Books

As part of Sundress’s ongoing commitment to service, we would like to continue our offer to review books that have been released in 2021. COVID-19 has caused immeasurable hardship in the literary community by cancelling readings, launches, tours, and other needed promotional efforts. To combat this, Sundress Publications is now accepting submissions for consideration for inclusion in our review series, Sundress Reads. We’re looking to write featured reviews for books with release dates from January 1st, 2021 to October 31st, 2021. We at Sundress particularly hope to champion writers whose work highlights human struggle and challenges misconceptions.

Authors or publishers of books published within this date range are invited to submit books, chapbooks, or anthologies in any genre for consideration by our reviewers who are standing by. Submissions will be considered on a rolling basis. Sundress does not assign reviews, but instead makes all materials available to our reviewers for individual selection.

For immediate consideration, please forward an electronic copy of the book (PDFs preferred), author bio, photo of the cover, and a link to the publisher’s website to sundresspublications@gmail.com with “Sundress Reads: Title” as the subject line. In addition, we request that one print copy be mailed to Sundress Academy for the Arts, ATTN: Sundress Reads, 195 Tobby Hollow Lane, Knoxville, TN 37931 to support the library for writers in retreat at SAFTA. 

Submissions to Sundress Reads will remain eligible for selection for one year. Hard copies will become a permanent part of the Sundress Academy for the Arts library and will be made available to SAFTA fellows and staff as well as by request to affiliate journals for further reviews.

Sundress Reads: Review of All the Songs We Sing

All the Songs We Sing, edited by Lenard D. Moore, is a vibrant and vocal celebration, as stated in the subtitle: Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective. The Carolina African American Writers’ Collective (CAAWC) began in 1995 with monthly workshops held in homes, and has continued and thrived for 25 years. Members have published books, won recognition, and participated in panels, readings, and multiple collaborations. While this collection is not comprehensive, it does include voices from a variety of generations and renown, voices sharing diverse stories and forms that speak of a greater collective Carolina identity. Moore writes in the introduction:  “With our fabric, we weave, as if making a tapestry of North Carolina that extends beyond borders… And yet, we also write about the United States and the global community. Every day we live an often painful history. But we must rise above it.” This collection carries these tensions — both regional and global, histories of trauma beside moments of human celebration and connection. On behalf of these CAAWC writers, these diverse voices not often amplified for audiences in mainstream American culture, Moore says: “In these stories/songs, we hope you will learn something about our origin, real and metaphorical.”

This multi-genre collection is separated into three sections: poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Poems fill the majority of the pages in a range of styles and forms, creating conversations with historical African Americans from past to present day. Emmett Till calls out more than once. Michelle Obama “First brown lady” dazzles in multiple poems, described as a living “Black Barbie” by celeste doaks. The juxtaposition of past and present literally becomes colorful questions and impressions as L. Teresa Church describes: “Michelle Obama’s green-gloved hands/cradle Lincoln’s/red-cased Bible/this winter day.” In “The Interrogation of Harriet Tubman” by Lenard D. Moore, the narrator asks haunting questions of the Underground Railroad leader, wounded by trauma, doubting its end and Tubman’s deliverance, causing the reader to ask more questions as well. Trauma, determination, and belonging are themes that haunt these poems. In “Archeologist”, Carol Boston Weatherford imagines a farmhand carving a bone button for his beloved who sews it to her only dress “hoping they are never separated”. The narrator in “I Am Black & Comely” by L. Lamar Wilson references the Song of Solomon and questions the King James translation, asking, “O will we ever know how beautiful we are?” “When I Thought of Racism” by Diane Judge starts with lynchings and ending with a contemporary reference to 2012: “When I thought of racism/I did not know to think/of a hoodie, rainbow candy, tea”.

The CAAWC fiction writers depict images of intense relationships with unpredictable endings. Relationships are complex and complicated. Relationships survive the context of wartime and the everyday tensions of American life through time. Histories extend through the centuries. The first two stories feature young women shaping their futures through their own agency despite overwhelming cultural and personal forces against them. “I don’t know what the right thing is,” confides the title character in Angela Belcher Epps’ story “Sophia”. But relationships are also a refuge, as an African American soldier cares for orphaned Vietnamese children during war in the aptly named “Sanctuary” by Sheila Smith McKoy. CAAWC fiction writers highlight the tensions and stress of caregiving, and the weight of responsibilities, relationships, and families. Yet nurturing is also a positive theme. “That’s all I want to do. Dig, plant, grow” says the narrator of “On the Border” who ends up caring for an unwanted bird while healing from trauma and reading the Burpee seed catalog. The final story, “Tuck Hughes,” also describes the power of time and trauma, and the lasting impact of relationships in life.

Camille T. Dungy’s essay “From Dirt” opens the nonfiction section depicting an intimacy and understanding of food and nourishment, “simultaneous legacies of trauma and triumph,” including a line of seed passed down from the 1838 Trail of Tears, and ancestors carrying okra in their hair and peanuts hidden on their bodies through the Middle Passage and then to American soil. “People who came long before us carried the source of a new kind of flourishing through desolation most of us care not to fully comprehend.” The following essay, “Perennials” by Angela Belcher Epps ends with reflection on “the cord of continuity” found in gardening after her mother passes away “Her presence persisted as new life, growth, beauty”. Other essays continue the theme of perseverance, resilience, growth, and joy, as a writer who has lost her sense of smell states, “I just remind myself that while part of me is gone, so much more remains.” 

All the Songs We Sing is a rich collection of voices, acknowledging trauma of the African American experience while also celebrating the resilience and the refuge of relationships, relationships with the natural world and relationships with family and friends. In the poetry section alone, there are moments of beauty featuring tulips, daffodils, cornfields, peach trees, cold, sweet water, and honeysuckle. Nature is a form of refuge for CAAWC writers. Relationships with seeds and nature carry hope and history. And while relationships can be traumatic, marked by violence and loss, relationships can also heal, nurture, and shelter growth. Through the written word, through collective history and identity, CAAWC writers interrogate the past, question historical figures, connect with ancestors, celebrate progress in the present, grieve injustice, building bridges of strength and identity into the present. The CAAWC writers speak of lynchings, loss, and violence existing alongside shelter and sanctuary, connection and care, glimpses of beauty. These writers from Carolina share their stories with this “cord of continuity” from the past quarter-century extending into the future of the 21st century. As Carole Boston Weatherford writes in her poem “Isaac Copper I’: “When you are the only one who knows,/You tell somebody; you show someone./You remember for those who might forget./You pass it down.”

Purchase your copy here!

The photo of the author at the beach.

Julie Jeanell Leung received her MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in a number of publications, including Bellingham Review, Blue Lyra Review, and Grist: The Journal for Writers. Her essays have been selected as a Finalist for Best of the Net and as a winner of the Living Earth Nonfiction Prize. Julie lives with her husband on an island near Seattle where she volunteers as a citizen scientist and counts sea stars on the rocky shores.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: The Last Human Heart by Allison Joseph


PLAY

I feel a sudden poem coming on,
new lines that dance their way across this page
to show all other poems how it’s done,
familiar yet so comfortably strange,

so new. This poem wants to skip and run,
to act unruly, truant, underage,
skipping school to lie out in the sun,
avoiding me because I’m prone to rage

at it. But all this poem wants is fun,
and nothing I can do will keep it caged—
no threat will keep this poem quiet, stunned
by my demands. It won’t live off the stage,

not cowed, not scared, not satisfied to stay
unrecognized. Without me, it still plays.

This selection comes from The Last Human Heart, available from Diode Editions. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Leah Silvieus.


Allison Joseph lives, writes, and teaches in Carbondale, Illinois, where is she is part of the creative writing faculty at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The author of many books and chapbooks of poetry, she is the widow of the poet and editor Jon Tribble, to whom THE LAST HUMAN HEART is dedicated.

Leah Silvieus was born in South Korea and adopted to the U.S. at three-months old. She grew up in small towns in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley and western Colorado. She is the author of Anemochory (Hyacinth Girl Press), Season of Dares (Bull City Press), Arabilis (Sundress Publications) and co-editor with Lee Herrick of the poetry anthology, The World I Leave You: Asian American Poets on Faith and Spirit (Orison Books). She is a recipient of awards and fellowships from Kundiman, The Academy of American Poets, and Fulbright and serves as a mentor on The Brooklyn Poets Bridge. A 2019-2020 National Book Critics Circle Emerging Fellow, Leah serves as a senior books editor at Hyphen magazine and an associate editor at Marginalia Review of Books. Her reviews and criticism have appeared in the Harvard Review OnlineThe Believer, and elsewhere.  
She holds a BA from Whitworth University, an MFA from the University of Miami, and is currently an MAR candidate in Religion and Literature at Yale Divinity School/Institute of Sacred Music. Prior to Yale, she spent several years traveling between New York and Florida as a yacht chief stewardess.

 

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: The Last Human Heart by Allison Joseph


Spoon

When I think of its silver shape, its arch and curve,
its shiny belly eager for my soup, I cannot help
but be excited, knowing the promise of nourishment

to come. I love its metal cold against a mound
of vanilla covered in an avalanche of chocolate syrup,
or hot with broth so laden with noodles

it’s more noodle than soup, each curvy twist
better than the last. I cannot love a plastic one.
My spoon must have permanence—surviving

and outlasting bad radio songs and difficult
skirt lengths, must be the right fit for my hand,
elegant—not too tiny, not too immense. It must

take what I want to shovel in my mouth
without being a shovel, must be more like a star,
my pleasure its only purpose. It must wait

patiently among spiky forks and treacherous
knives, knowing I will come for it once, twice,
three times a day. It must stir everything I want

and never complain. I hang it off my tongue, let
it slide down until I catch it, make it blend
what’s separate into a whole only I’ll consume.

This selection comes from The Last Human Heart, available from Diode Editions. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Leah Silvieus.


Allison Joseph lives, writes, and teaches in Carbondale, Illinois, where is she is part of the creative writing faculty at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The author of many books and chapbooks of poetry, she is the widow of the poet and editor Jon Tribble, to whom THE LAST HUMAN HEART is dedicated.

Leah Silvieus was born in South Korea and adopted to the U.S. at three-months old. She grew up in small towns in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley and western Colorado. She is the author of Anemochory (Hyacinth Girl Press), Season of Dares (Bull City Press), Arabilis (Sundress Publications) and co-editor with Lee Herrick of the poetry anthology, The World I Leave You: Asian American Poets on Faith and Spirit (Orison Books). She is a recipient of awards and fellowships from Kundiman, The Academy of American Poets, and Fulbright and serves as a mentor on The Brooklyn Poets Bridge. A 2019-2020 National Book Critics Circle Emerging Fellow, Leah serves as a senior books editor at Hyphen magazine and an associate editor at Marginalia Review of Books. Her reviews and criticism have appeared in the Harvard Review OnlineThe Believer, and elsewhere.  
She holds a BA from Whitworth University, an MFA from the University of Miami, and is currently an MAR candidate in Religion and Literature at Yale Divinity School/Institute of Sacred Music. Prior to Yale, she spent several years traveling between New York and Florida as a yacht chief stewardess.

 

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: The Last Human Heart by Allison Joseph


After Learning that Stanza Means “Room” in Italian

Outfit a poem as you would a home:
move in what’s difficult, what’s more serene
to rooms you wander through to make your own.

Seek words as wild as textures—chintz to chrome,
from plush velvet to slickest gabardine.
Outfit a poem as you would a home.

Lay down your remnants, hang up what you have sewn,
a cloth of words as crisp as crinoline
in rooms you wander through to make your own.

Take all your boxes, all that you’ve outgrown,
and carry those in too, those old routines.
Outfit a poem as you would a home.

Then sort through what you have, all you have known,
and fill the apt spaces, all those gaps between
those rooms you wander through to make your own.

There’s nothing in your life you must disown;
equip this house with everything you’ve seen.
Outfit a poem as you would your home—
loved rooms you wander through, then make your own.

This selection comes from The Last Human Heart, available from Diode Editions. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Leah Silvieus.


Allison Joseph lives, writes, and teaches in Carbondale, Illinois, where is she is part of the creative writing faculty at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The author of many books and chapbooks of poetry, she is the widow of the poet and editor Jon Tribble, to whom THE LAST HUMAN HEART is dedicated.

Leah Silvieus was born in South Korea and adopted to the U.S. at three-months old. She grew up in small towns in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley and western Colorado. She is the author of Anemochory (Hyacinth Girl Press), Season of Dares (Bull City Press), Arabilis (Sundress Publications) and co-editor with Lee Herrick of the poetry anthology, The World I Leave You: Asian American Poets on Faith and Spirit (Orison Books). She is a recipient of awards and fellowships from Kundiman, The Academy of American Poets, and Fulbright and serves as a mentor on The Brooklyn Poets Bridge. A 2019-2020 National Book Critics Circle Emerging Fellow, Leah serves as a senior books editor at Hyphen magazine and an associate editor at Marginalia Review of Books. Her reviews and criticism have appeared in the Harvard Review OnlineThe Believer, and elsewhere.  
She holds a BA from Whitworth University, an MFA from the University of Miami, and is currently an MAR candidate in Religion and Literature at Yale Divinity School/Institute of Sacred Music. Prior to Yale, she spent several years traveling between New York and Florida as a yacht chief stewardess.

 

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: The Last Human Heart by Allison Joseph


Aquaphobia

In my dreams I am always drowning,
always that scared girl, toes curled over
the edge of a public pool, suit straps
sliding off my shoulders, fearful

all the boys will see her flat chest,
ruffled two-piece suit soggy, sweaty.
Always the water churns an ugly
blue, chlorine gagging my breathing,

making me turn my head and cough
like at the doctor’s, except no kindly
nurse hands me a sucker here.
Instead, I’m the sucker—so afraid

of sinking that I’m ripe for any
troublemaking boy to trip and push
me into that city pool where the signs
above say NO RUNNING

NO HORSEPLAY NO SPITTING
Swim At Your Own Risk
And before I can say no,
I’m a sunken stone, heavy

but flailing, a skinny bag
of bones, terribly uncute.
Is it any wonder now, adult,
I cannot even float,

that the swim instructor, baffled,
wonders aloud how can you run
and bike but not swim?
I laugh, tell her I don’t trust water,

and really, I don’t—it lies about
how deep it is, comes crashing
uninvited into basements,
aids and abets hurricanes.

No one should trust anything
that beautiful that causes
that much damage, anything

capable of bloating you up,
soaking you dead, leaving
you wasted on the shore.

This selection comes from The Last Human Heart, available from Diode Editions. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Leah Silvieus.


Allison Joseph lives, writes, and teaches in Carbondale, Illinois, where is she is part of the creative writing faculty at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The author of many books and chapbooks of poetry, she is the widow of the poet and editor Jon Tribble, to whom THE LAST HUMAN HEART is dedicated.

Leah Silvieus was born in South Korea and adopted to the U.S. at three-months old. She grew up in small towns in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley and western Colorado. She is the author of Anemochory (Hyacinth Girl Press), Season of Dares (Bull City Press), Arabilis (Sundress Publications) and co-editor with Lee Herrick of the poetry anthology, The World I Leave You: Asian American Poets on Faith and Spirit (Orison Books). She is a recipient of awards and fellowships from Kundiman, The Academy of American Poets, and Fulbright and serves as a mentor on The Brooklyn Poets Bridge. A 2019-2020 National Book Critics Circle Emerging Fellow, Leah serves as a senior books editor at Hyphen magazine and an associate editor at Marginalia Review of Books. Her reviews and criticism have appeared in the Harvard Review OnlineThe Believer, and elsewhere.  
She holds a BA from Whitworth University, an MFA from the University of Miami, and is currently an MAR candidate in Religion and Literature at Yale Divinity School/Institute of Sacred Music. Prior to Yale, she spent several years traveling between New York and Florida as a yacht chief stewardess.

 

Project Bookshelf: Nikki Lyssy

There is nothing I love more than reading, and the collection of books I keep close to my heart is an eclectic mix of memoir, fiction, and literature. My bookshelf is electronic, as I download all of my books from an accessible platform and read them in Braille. The advantage of this is that I never run out of space, so I have a collection that spans years and experiences.

Through high school, young adult novels captured my attention. I love the realistic portrayals of high school and the world of a teenager like I was. Books such as What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy by Jenny Han, and anything by Nicholas Sparks inspired me to try to write stories with teenagers at their core. As I grew out of high school and was introduced to literary fiction, I found that there was a place on my bookshelf for everything from William Shakespeare’s King Lear to Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.

It was not until I was introduced to creative nonfiction that I began to actively seek out memoir to complete my bookshelf; now, I would say that most of my reading is comprised of memoirs and essay collections. Whenever I need to return to my roots as a writer, I always go back to Jill Talbot’s The Way We Weren’t to experience the way she plays with form on the page. Aesthetically, I am inspired by memoirs that turn in unexpected directions, whether in terms of form or storyline. Emotionally, I gravitate toward stories that make me laugh, cry, and fully delve into the experiences of the writer—especially it is different from my own. Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us, JoAnn Beard’s The Boys of My Youth, and Tara Westover’s Educated are examples: these three writers come from different backgrounds and experiences and lay their lives bare on the page. Generally, memoirs written by celebrities have to be compelling enough to capture my interest, but I will always have a soft spot for Jessica Simpson’s Open Book because of the honesty she portrays about every facet of her life.

In closing, books inspire me to be a better writer, but more than that, they inspire me to empathize, sympathize, and fall in love with the written word every time I add a new one to my collection. Each book I have read has walked me through a unique time in my life—whether it be my introduction to high school, my senior year of college, or the middle of a global pandemic. I am constantly searching for the story that I have never encountered, and each book on my shelf was, at one point or another, that story. As I write my own, I use books to study craft; when I am relaxing, I get to dive fully into the practice of reading as fulfillment.


Nikki Lyssy is an MFA candidate at the University of South Florida, where she is pursuing a degree in Creative Nonfiction. She has essays published in Hobart, Essay Daily, and Sweet: A Literary Convection.