Sonya Huber’s essay “Love and Industry: A Midwestern Workbook” won’s 3rd Annual Nonfiction Contest, judged by Christopher Cokinos, and is featured in Issue 31: Ruin + Renewal. Here, Huber lists her reading recommendations, suggesting a few works that have helped shape her writing.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie DillardPilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

This book is such an obvious gem, and it influenced me deeply when I first read it in college. It shaped my desire to write nonfiction as art. Dillard’s mind is fierce and her voice is sheer poetry. Each sentence remains relevant for me; she’s actually not writing about a creek at all, but about the mind, about writing and observation and motive. I return over and over to Dillard’s work to try to absorb her rhythmic brilliance at the level of the sentence.

A Chorus of Stones: The Private Life of War by Susan Griffin

Griffin weaves research—on family, gender, and the role of the military—with a collage of memories, creating an unforgettable and disturbing whole. She reaches beyond herself to include more themes than one work can possibly exhaust, pursuing the connections between these narratives and anti-narratives. I admire her depth of exploration. She’s making art but not merely for art’s sake. I like big bold work with social justice themes, and Griffin goes all out.

Lessons in Taxidermy by Bee Lavender

Lavender gives us a punk rock memoir about cancer and accidents, about gender, violence, class and struggle—all situated in the Pacific Northwest. I admire this book for its honesty and for naming the anarchist and punk culture of the ’90s as an important political, personal, and cultural influence.

The Last Street Before Cleveland, by Joe MackallThe Last Street Before Cleveland: An Accidental Pilgrimage by Joe Mackall

Mackall charts toward the hard stuff and writes right into it. The Last Street Before Cleveland is a family memoir about religion, murder, addiction and loss, but more than anything this book is rooted in place: the Rust Belt. Before I encountered Joe Mackall’s work, I had rarely seen images of the landscapes I love in print. I spent years away from the Midwest and as I mourned and pined for it, people sometimes asked what I could possibly miss. Mackall’s work opened my eyes to the possibility of exploring that place on the page along with its specific culture, people, and language. His voice expresses values of clarity, humility, and understated directness that I recognize from the people I grew up around. He made a part of my life visible to me.


Sonya Huber is the author of two books of creative nonfiction, Opa Nobody (2008), shortlisted for the Saroyan Prize, and Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir (2010), finalist for the ForeWord Book of the Year. She has also written a textbook, The Backwards Research Guide for Writers: Using Your Life for Reflection, Connection, and Inspiration (2011). She teaches at Fairfield University and in the Fairfield Low-Residency MFA Program.

Header photo (Cleveland) credit: BIG Slow via photopin cc

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2 Responses

  1. Erin Regan

    Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is one of my favorite works as well. I love the way poetry, art, the natural world, and self-reflection collide in her nonfiction. She is certainly one of the authors I turn to for inspiration. Your other suggestions look really interesting too – I look forward to adding them to my reading list!

  2. Lindsey

    Thank you for the suggestions and sharing what novels have inspired you. I always find it interesting to learn what writers are reading. And congratulations on your essay!

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