One of the many reasons I am honored and excited to be the new core faculty member of the AULA MFA in Creative Writing is my deep admiration for the work of the program’s alumni. Here is a list of six of my favorites, by no means exhaustive or exclusive; these are just books I loved, learned from, and return to again and again. I encourage you to find these books at your local independent bookstore, but have included links to buy them below. – Lisa Locascio
Excavation by Wendy C. Ortiz
One of the most important books of the past decade, Excavation reconfigures the genre of memoir, fearlessly dissolving the perceived boundaries between history, narrative, memory, and trauma theory in an exploration of the relationship that begins when an eighth grade English teacher decides to groom his a fourteen-year-old student for an intimate encounter. At a time when stories like Ortiz’s are fictionalized and commercialized, Excavation remains the original, searingly powerful as ever. I teach it every chance I get.
I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On by Khadijah Queen
Among Queen’s many gifts is her ability to seamlessly merge the personal with the public. In her most recent collection of poems, she does this by turning her sharp eye to the oft-neglected detail of women’s clothing, that tool of camouflage, espionage, and triumphant mythmaking. A slick, funny, unforgettable read.
Surveillance by Ashaki M. Jackson
In keeping with her Antiochian roots, Jackson is a social psychologist as well as a poet; her work limns the boundaries between bodies, ideology, and the boundaries we use to reinforce structural oppression. Surveillance focuses on the indelible images of police killings of civilians that have been conveyed to us through body cams, cell phones, and other unexpected sources. By framing these pictures of state-sanctioned killing through our seeing, Jackson deconstructs the presumption of spectatorial apathy.
Of Cartography: Poems by Esther G. Belin
Belin, a Diné poet and writer, is the child of parents who were forcibly relocated from the Southwest to L.A. as the result of federal policy that sought to destroy Native American communities and cultural resilience. “I see my books as an anthropological text,” Belin has said, “telling what it’s like for Native people.” In her most recent book, she takes on the freighted object of the map, examining its power to divide and unite through stories that draw upon mythology and the quotidian, often brutal details of daily life.
Spent by Antonia Crane
Crane’s memoir reads like a fully realized bildungsroman, telling the story of the difficult early life that led to her finding herself at independent at seventeen, living on “a diet of meth and oranges,” and beginning a decades-long immersion in the world of sex work. Fans of Diablo Cody’s Candy Girl: A Year In The Life of An Unlikely Stripper and the work of the blogger Belle du Jour will particularly enjoy this story, but everyone should read it; Crane’s experience in the country’s first strip club unionization alone makes this an essential book for our time.
The Book of Lost Saints by Daniel José Older
A ghost story, a mystery, a romance, and an immigrant family saga, Older’s latest novel marks his entrance into the world of literary fiction after the meteoric success of his YA series The Shadowshaper Cypher. Set in a sensitively rendered New Jersey, The Book of Lost Saints explores the afterlife of Marisol Aragones and the unsatisfying adulthood of her nephew Ramon, two members of the Cuban diaspora seeking connection and understanding of the unknowable past.
Author and academic Lisa Locascio has recently joined the MFA in Creative Writing program as a Core Faculty in Fiction. Locascio also serves as the Executive Director of the Mendocino Coast Writer’s Conference. Her debut novel, Open Me, was published by Grove Atlantic in 2018. A New York Times Editor’s Choice, Open Me was a semifinalist for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and was reviewed in The New York Times Review of Books, The New Yorker, and on NPR. She is the editor of an anthology, Golden State 2017: Best New Writing from California, published by Outpost19 Books. She has also published numerous creative writing pieces in literary journals such as Lit Hub, The Southhampton Review, The Believer, and n+1, amongst many others.