This month’s prompts are drawn from the books on NPR’s most recent list of Great Reads. Sometimes it was the title that drew my eye (how could I resist the creative lure of The Book of Difficult Fruit?!), sometimes it was the book description (All That She Carried, for example). This month I hope to accomplish two goals: to inspire you creatively and to encourage you to add at least one of these titles to your reading list for the upcoming year.
There is only one rule to my prompt challenge: the poem or book title should serve as the title of your piece OR all the words of the title should be integrated into your piece somehow.
I LOVE posting your prompt responses on Brave & Reckless. I welcome your poetry, prose, flash fiction, creative nonfiction, essay, and art. I will accept responses to any of January’s prompts on any day before January 31st.
Email your prompt responses with a short bio (if you have not recently submitted to me) and a suggested image to email@example.com.
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“Perhaps you, like me, have been having a tough time reading nonfiction when reality feels so bleak. But the one such book that’s held my attention has been The Book of Difficult Fruit, an inventive book that combines memoir, essays and recipes to such a compelling effect that I couldn’t put it down. Structured as a set of 26 essays about different fruits – one for every letter of the alphabet – Kate Lebo examines each, picked for its “difficulty,” such as astringency (aronia, as well as quince), rareness (thimbleberries) or pungence (durian). She relates each to her own experience of cooking and consuming them, and gives readers recipes to prepare even the most demanding fruits. Taken as a whole, this collection of essays is much more than the sum of its parts; rather, it’s a celebration of the natural world and our relationship to the food it produces.”— Natalie Escobar, associate editor, NPR, Culture Desk and Code Switch
“This book is visually stunning, full of images of the late Winfred Rembert’s art, which he carved and painted in leather. There are scenes of his life growing up in rural Georgia – a jarring juxtaposition of nostalgic moments like fishing or dancing in the juke joint, and dark memories of picking cotton, escaping a lynching, and working on the chain gang. Rembert’s brutally honest storytelling helps us see the sacrifice and grit it took for Black Americans to survive in the Jim Crow South, something he said should make families proud and want to talk about their history.”— Debbie Elliott, correspondent, NPR, National Desk
“Poet Rita Dove’s new volume is both for and of our current moment – one that can feel apocalyptic. In her first collection of new poems in 12 years, Dove’s words pierce history, explore meaning and interrogate memory. And readers learn the Pulitzer Prize-winning former U.S. Poet Laureate has been living with a form of multiple sclerosis since 1997. Her poetry explores living with the illness, but not without hope. It’s a book certain to be a great companion in these uncertain times and beyond.”— Nina Gregory, head of news and media publishers at Clubhouse and former senior editor, Culture Desk, NPR
“Michelle Zauner’s debut memoir eloquently lays out the complexity and the ongoing grief of losing a parent in your 20s, just as your own life is about to start. Zauner, who heads the indie band Japanese Breakfast, writes about how she turned to Korean food as a way to process her grief when her mother, her only tie to Korean culture, died of cancer. The book, which was first excerpted as viral New Yorker essay in 2018, reflects on how cooking and eating the food that her mom once prepared gives her a way to connect to her identity. As someone who also lost a parent in my 20s, it’s hard to convey the loss of identity and confusion that I faced, so I’m so thankful this book exists.”— Alyssa Jeong Perry, producer, Code Switch
“Growing up, Grace M. Cho’s mother, a Korean “military bride” named Koonja, was a dynamic force in their small town, cooking for their white neighbors and foraging the nearby forest for wild blackberries and mushrooms. But things began to change when Cho turned 15 and her mother began to hear voices. In the decades that followed, schizophrenia took over. Koonja stopped cooking and refused to leave the house. In this powerful memoir, Cho writes about the trauma that shaped her mother’s life and contributed to her mental illness – and about her own efforts to reclaim the mother she knew by cooking traditional Korean dishes.”— Bridget Bentz, web producer, Fresh Air, NPR
“This clever first novel is a beguiling dual love story about how language and people intersect and connect – the joy of lex. A century apart, two lexicographers beaver away in London on the same unfinished Encyclopedic Dictionary. Peter Winceworth, stuck working on the S’s in 1899, rues the English language’s lamentable gaps, and has a habit of fabricating words that might fill them, such as “procrastinattering” about the weather. A hundred years later, an intern named Mallory is hired to update definitions and weed out any bogus entries, aka Mountweazels. The intertwining plotlines build to an explosive climax that raises questions about the instability of language, how words gain currency, and whether fake words are any less real than actual words.”— Heller McAlpin, book critic
“In the 1850s, an enslaved woman named Rose, upon learning that her 9-year-old daughter, Ashley, was about to be sold away, packed a tattered cotton bag that would serve as a keepsake. Rose and Ashley never saw each other again, but Ashley’s sack was passed down within the family. In 1921, Rose’s great-granddaughter embroidered it with a cursive script starkly describing the cruelty her foremothers had endured – and the strength and hope embodied in Rose’s gift: “It be filled with my Love always.” In All That She Carried, historian Tiya Miles unpacks Ashley’s sack to tell a sweeping story about the unfathomable horror of slavery – as well as the transcendent power of Black love and resilience.”— Bridget Bentz, web producer, Fresh Air, NPR
“Hunting by Stars is fantasy – but just barely. In it, North America’s Indigenous people are being hunted for their ability to dream, which most of the rest of the continent has lost. Within that landscape, almost everything that Cherie Dimaline’s characters experience – from being separated from their families to being threatened for access to resources to being thrown in boarding schools – is based on real history. And while the book paints a painful, sometimes relentless portrait of the injustices that have been inflicted on Native people, it still manages to be nuanced, engrossing and beautifully imagined.”— Leah Donnella, supervising editor, Code Switch