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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also participate on Instagram by tagging your writing/art with:
Poor Yevgeny. Growing up in Cold War Russia, his parents have made it infinitely clear that his ticket out is to have an artistic gift. Unfortunately, discovering what you’re good at is a tricky proposition. Could his pencil drawings under the family dinner table be more than just an odd habit? And who knew you could pull a deft memoir this funny out of Communism? Bet you’ll never guess where Mikhail Baryshnikov’s blue jeans end up. (For ages 10 and up)— Betsy Bird, librarian, book critic and author of Long Road to the Circus
Whether you’ve missed losing yourself in art museums or simply feel lost whenever you step into one, Jennifer Higgie’s The Mirror and the Palette will bring a fresh perspective on the power of art. The personality and preoccupations expressed by a painting in a single frame are made even more potent with these self-portraits, ultimate acts of defiance in a world that often demands what a woman should (or, more frequently, shouldn’t) be. Higgie’s meticulous research into those obstacles and the artists who faced them captures how miraculous it is that some of these paintings even came to exist but, far more than that, the inexorability of these women’s resilience in taking back control of how the world saw them.— Elena Burnett, production assistant, All Things Considered, NPR
This winningly titled baker’s dozen is bookended on one end by the title tale, which was first published in 1966, and on the other by a powerful new story. Written in 2020, “The Great Escape” checks in on Hilma Wolitzer’s longtime recurring couple – melancholic Howard and garrulous Paulie – at 90, just as the pandemic hits New York. Like her novels, Wolitzer’s stories delve into the vicissitudes of love and marriage with wisdom, wit and warmth. But brace yourself for the last one, which masterfully demonstrates literature’s power to move and console.— Heller McAlpin, book critic
I carry rage in me: centuries of violence and opportunity inflicted against Black people, the memory of which produces an anger that can immobilize me. A newfound restorative I’ve found is Mariame Kaba’s essay collection We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice. She outlines the immediate need for abolition of prisons and policing by explaining how these systems perpetuate violence and harm. Full of altruistic grace, accessible language and thoughtful analysis, it’s a must-read: Our future, Kaba argues, depends on recognizing how our learned punishment mindset routinely damages lives. It’s a helpful text for those new to the fight for abolition, veteran organizers and everyone in between.— LaTesha Harris, editorial assistant, NPR Music
This year we saw the boom of Native comedy in TV shows Rutherford Falls and Reservation Dogs, but Indigenous people have been cracking jokes about the Rez, Custer and fry bread for ages now. In We Had A Little Real Estate Problem, Kliph Nesteroff proves just that with a blend of stories covering everything from Indian sideshows to the life of legendary stand-up Charlie Hill (the title a nod to his most famous one-liner), and profiles of today’s Indigenous comedy scene. Nesteroff, hand-in-hand with the community whose story he aims to tell, gives a serious account of an unserious lineage.— Sam Yellowhorse Kesler, fellow, Code Switch
Even if you’re an avid birder, you might never have heard of the striated caracara, a charismatic but endangered scavenger that makes its home in and around Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands. In his fascinating debut book, ornithologist and indie rocker Jonathan Meiburg writes about his journeys in search of the elusive bird, and the changes that threaten its future. You don’t have to know the first thing about birds to be drawn into this beautifully written, enchanting book.— Michael Schaub, book critic
The Sweetness of Water is an American saga about a small Georgia community trying to find its footing after emancipation and the trauma of the Civil War. Two young freedmen, brothers from a local plantation, are hiding out in the woods, trying to avoid their obstinate former master until they can make their way north. They find unlikely but steadfast allies in the eccentric white family who own the land. It’s a thoughtful, emotional and humane story and a surprising page turner full of twists and turns. The issues this book raises feel strikingly resonant right now.— Carole V. Bell, book critic