Nan's New Books

Sometimes prestigious prize winners are just that: prestigious, extremely well-written books, maybe even great literature. But sometimes you get a list of prize winners like this, where each one is not only important but fascinating and gripping. These titles are all compulsively readable, and all are available from the Provincetown Library.

Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy, by Heather Ann Thompson
Winner for History
On September 9, 1971, prisoners took over the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York, holding guards and civilian employees hostage. On September 13, the state sent hundreds of heavily armed troopers to retake the prison by force, killing 39 men—hostages as well as prisoners—and wounding more than 100 others. For the first time, historian Heather Ann Thompson gives voice to all those who took part: prisoners, former hostages, families of the victims, lawyers, judges, state officials and members of law enforcement.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond
Winner for General Non-Fiction
Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond immerses us in the lives of eight Milwaukee families caught in the cycle of poverty and eviction. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs, is trying to work his way out of debt. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind. With vivid details, Desmond exposes the truth about the exploitation of the poor in America today.

Olio, by Tyehimba Jess
Winner for Poetry
“Olio” means hodge-podge, but another meaning is a collection of variety acts in a minstrel show, forerunner of vaudeville. In this brilliant book, Jess follows the true stories of a dozen first-generation-free African Americans, all of them entertainers, most of them musicians — from a blind piano player in a dive bar, to Scott Joplin, to conjoined twins who appeared in side shows. Stories, poems, voices, music, text, drawings, graphics, and all of American history combine in these pages.

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between, by Hisham Matar
Winner for Biography/Autobiography
When Hisham Matar was a 19-year-old student in England, his father went missing under mysterious circumstances. Twenty-two years later, Hisham returned to his native Libya in search of the truth behind his father’s disappearance. “[A]t once a suspenseful detective story about a writer investigating his father’s fate . . . and a son’s efforts to come to terms with his father’s ghost, who has haunted more than half his life by his absence.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times.

Sweat, by Lynn Nottage
Winner for Drama
Set in a bar in Reading. Pa, a former steel town in the Rust Belt, this simmering drama brings together two ex-cons, their parole officer, and three women (including the mothers of the ex-cons) who work together at the steel factory. Scenes set in 2008, with flashbacks to 2000, show the economic and personal changes in these characters’ lives that will explode into violence before the play is over. (Available June 2017)

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
Winner for Fiction
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, but Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels….