Whitney Gilchrist

Whitney taught 11th grade English and creative writing with Mississippi Teacher Corps, traveled to National Parks and visited relatives and friends all over the states for a year, then moved to Tallahassee to pursue an MFA in creative writing at FSU, where she taught writing and research to freshmen. She’s working on a novel about returning home to Mississippi. She reads literary novels, stories, memoirs, and the occasional middle-grade novel. 

The Collected Stories of Grace Paley (1994, 2007)

For lovers of short stories, women writers, activist writers, feminism, and character-driven humor, there is Grace Paley. Her voice-driven short stories will delight you. Often the characters are opinionated women, wives and mothers, going to the butcher, or confronting their husbands, or gossiping.

Her voice changed my understanding of what a story can do and taught me more about writing than any book about craft. Most of her work is out of print, so this collection is a blessing.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (2012)

A young girl living on the Mississippi gulf coast narrates Jesmyn Ward's novel of Hurricane Katrina, which won her the first of two National Book Awards. The physical world is vivid to Esch, a young teenager with the fresh eye of a child who’s been through a lot. She is also growing up faster than her brothers know. A beautiful novel of family, place, and natural disaster. Ward creates exquisite novels from voices we don't hear enough of in contemporary, award-winning fiction. Become a fan of her writing, and enjoy the anticipation of her future work with me.

The Idiot by Elif Batuman (2017)

I loved the experience of reading this subtly funny book. It’s one that you have to make yourself read in doses -- you won’t want it to end. Selin is a Turkish-American Harvard freshman who arrives like a blank slate, attends classes, points out all the strange assumptions that college life makes, and hates to drink. She ends up following strange paths, striking up an asexual, email-based relationship with an older boy who ultimately nudges her to visit Turkey. 

The writing is delightful and slow, easy to relish and enjoy. You can see where she was coming from in this manifesto about novels. The voice and sensibility enchanted me from the first sentence. You have to read it to see why you can’t put it down.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005)

Joan Didion's first memoir begins with tragedy and outlines the hum of grief that follows with striking insight and mesmerizing honesty. If only everyone’s journal were as reflective, clear-eyed, detailed, and caring. To me, this is nearly a sacred text -- I am comforted knowing that, should I find myself grieving, I won’t be without Didion’s insight.

Where the Light Falls: The Selected Stories of Nancy Hale, Edited by Lauren Groff (2019)

Groff’s introduction says it best: Nobody has heard of Nancy Hale, one of the most prolific and artistic short story writers of the 20th century. This collection reads like a museum retrospective, where we see the writer evolve with the weight of American history in the back of our minds. Most of these stories were written from the 1930s-1950s, and like the best texts, offer glimpses into the lives of those living through wars and the development of today’s United States. Most exciting to me about reading this is that I got out of it what I never got out of Fitzgerald or Hemingway: An acute glimpse at the interior lives of white Americans living in the early 20th century.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser (2017)

The Vanderbeekers are a big family living in a Harlem brownstone with a dog, a rabbit, a mom, a dad, and five kids. The first in the series introduces you to a cast of loveable characters, who all have one common goal: to charm their mean old landlord The Biederman into NOT evicting them from their apartment, where they’ve spent their whole lives. In the process, they enlist the whole neighborhood, and dig up some information that helps them empathize with Mr. Biederman.

This is a wonderful read for kids who are reading chapter books, around age 8 and up. Three books in this series are currently released, with a fourth and fifth promised in the next few years.

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