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35 Impressive Indie Press Books of 2021

"35 Impressive Indie Press Books of 2021" is a literary listicle of independent press books curated by IBR founder Joe Walters. Fiction, nonfiction, and poetry books make this year's list from presses like Tin House, Two Dollar Radio, Catapult, and more.

“35 Impressive Indie Press Books of 2021”

Curated by Joe Walters

Impressive indie press books of 2021 include titles from Tin House Books, Catapult, Two Dollar Radio, and more.

2021 was a badass year for indie press books.

This isn’t anything new.

Indie presses are always pushing boundaries, bending genres, breaking new ground, and changing the scope of the literary landscape.

This year, some of the finest books came from indie presses. They made impressive strides alongside the big-budget publishers with novels, nonfiction, and poetry that grabbed readerly attention not because of their prominent space at your local Barnes & Noble, but because those who read them grabbed the shirts of those who were nearest to them, thrust a paperback into their chests, and said, This. You’ve got to read this.”

Here at IBR, we’re reminded every year why our focus on indie press books is just about the best decision we ever could have made.

We’ve sifted through a lot of books this year–from the big indies, the mid-level indies, the small presses with the biggest hearts–and some really amazing ones have come through our gates. This list could have been much longer, trust me, but we managed to dwindle it down to an impressive thirty-five.

These are the books we’re thrusting into your chests. These are the ones we believe that you’ve just got to see.

Without further ado, in no particular order, here is this year’s roundup of Impressive Indie Press Books of 2021.

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#1. What Storm, What Thunder

by Myriam J.A. Chancy

Publisher: Tin House Books

Genre: Literary / Disaster Fiction

About the Book:

At the end of a long, sweltering day, as markets and businesses begin to close for the evening, an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude shakes the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince.

Award-winning author Myriam J. A. Chancy masterfully charts the inner lives of the characters affected by the disaster—Richard, an expat and wealthy water-bottling executive with a secret daughter; the daughter, Anne, an architect who drafts affordable housing structures for a global NGO; a small-time drug trafficker, Leopold, who pines for a beautiful call girl; Sonia and her business partner, Dieudonné, who are followed by a man they believe is the vodou spirit of death; Didier, an emigrant musician who drives a taxi in Boston; Sara, a mother haunted by the ghosts of her children in an IDP camp; her husband, Olivier, an accountant forced to abandon the wife he loves; their son, Jonas, who haunts them both; and Ma Lou, the old woman selling produce in the market who remembers them all. Artfully weaving together these lives, witness is given to the desolation wreaked by nature and by man.

Brilliantly crafted, fiercely imagined, and deeply haunting, What Storm, What Thunder is a singular, stunning record, a reckoning of the heartbreaking trauma of disaster, and—at the same time—an unforgettable testimony to the tenacity of the human spirit.

#2. I Will Die in a Foreign Land

by Kalani Pickhart

Publisher: Two Dollar Radio

Genre: Literary / Historical

About the Book:

In 1913, a Russian ballet incited a riot in Paris at the new Théâtre de Champs-Elysées. “Only a Russian could do that,” says Aleksandr Ivanovich. “Only a Russian could make the whole world go mad.”

A century later, in November 2013, thousands of Ukrainian citizens gathered at Independence Square in Kyiv to protest then-President Yanukovych’s failure to sign a referendum with the European Union, opting instead to forge a closer alliance with President Vladimir Putin and Russia. The peaceful protests turned violent when military police shot live ammunition into the crowd, killing over a hundred civilians.

I Will Die in a Foreign Land follows four individuals over the course of a volatile Ukrainian winter, as their lives are forever changed by the Euromaidan protests. Katya is an Ukrainian-American doctor stationed at a makeshift medical clinic in St. Michael’s Monastery; Misha is an engineer originally from Pripyat, who has lived in Kyiv since his wife’s death; Slava is a fiery young activist whose past hardships steel her determination in the face of persecution; and Aleksandr Ivanovich, a former KGB agent, who climbs atop a burned-out police bus at Independence Square and plays the piano.

As Katya, Misha, Slava, and Aleksandr’s lives become intertwined, they each seek their own solace during an especially tumultuous and violent period. The story is also told by a chorus of voices that incorporates folklore and narrates a turbulent Slavic history.

While unfolding an especially moving story of quiet beauty and love in a time of terror, I Will Die in a Foreign Land is an ambitious, intimate, and haunting portrait of human perseverance and empathy.

#3. These Bones

by Kayla Chenault

Publisher: Lanternfish Press

Genre: Horror / Black & African American

About the Book:

In a neighborhood known as the Bramble Patch, the Lyons family endures despite poverty, racism, and the ghoulish appetites of an underworld kingpin called the Barghest.

As the years pass and the neighborhood falls into decay, along with the town that surrounds it, what’s left of the Bramble Patch will learn the saying is true: These bones are gonna rise again.

#4. Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body

by Megan Milks

Margaret and the Missing Body included in our year's choices for impressive indie press books

Publisher: Feminist Press

Genre: LGBTQ+ / Coming of Age

About the Book:

Meet Margaret. At age twelve, she was head detective of the mystery club Girls Can Solve Anything. Margaret and her three best friends led exciting lives solving crimes, having adventures, and laughing a lot. But now that she’s entered high school, the club has disbanded, and Margaret is unmoored—she doesn’t want to grow up, and she wishes her friends wouldn’t either. Instead, she opts out, developing an eating disorder that quickly takes over her life. When she lands in a treatment center, Margaret finds her path to recovery twisting sideways as she pursues a string of new mysteries involving a ghost, a hidden passage, disturbing desires, and her own vexed relationship with herself.

Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body reimagines nineties adolescence—mashing up girl group series, choose-your-own-adventures, and chronicles of anorexia—in a queer and trans coming-of-age tale like no other. An interrogation of girlhood and nostalgia, dysmorphia and dysphoria, this debut novel puzzles through the weird, ever-evasive questions of growing up.

#5. Fire & Water

Edited by Mary Fifield and Kristin Thiel

Publisher: Black Lawrence Press

Genre: Short Story Anthology / Climate & Environment

About the Book:

Fiction. A Sàmi woman studying Alaska fish populations sees our past and future through their present signs of stress and her ancestral knowledge. A teenager faces a permanent drought in Australia and her own sexual desire. An unemployed man in Wisconsin marvels as a motley parade of animals makes his trailer their portal to a world untrammeled by humans. Featuring short fiction from authors around the globe; FIRE & WATER: STORIES FROM THE ANTHROPOCENE takes readers on a rare journey through the physical and emotional landscape of the climate crisis–not in the future; but today. By turns frightening; confusing; and even amusing; these stories remind us how complex; and beautiful; it is to be human in these unprecedented times.

#6. Ariadne, I Love You

by J. Ashley-Smith

Publisher: Meerkat Press

Genre: Dark Fantasy / Paranormal

About the Book:

Jude is dragged out of Alt-Country obscurity, out of the dismal loop of booze and sadness baths and the boundless, insatiable loneliness, to scrub up and fly to Australia for a last, desperate comeback tour. Hardly worth getting out of bed for-and he wouldn’t, if it weren’t for Coreen.

But Coreen is dead. And, worse than that, she’s married. Jude’s swan-song tour becomes instead a terminal descent, into the sordid past, into the meaning hidden in forgotten songs, into Coreen’s madness diary, there to waken something far worse than her ghost.

#7. Waiting Impatiently

By Andrew H. Housley

Waiting Impatiently is included in this year's roundup of impressive indie press books

Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Genre: Spiritual Fiction

About the Book:

Here’s a gritty story of a man’s spiritual metamorphosis.

As the world begins to shut down in the face of a pandemic, Ian — a well-worn yoga teacher and Zen student — wavers as he stands at the precipice of his life, attempting to accept the gift of self-examination while burying the pieces of his painful past.

In Waiting Impatiently by Andrew H. Housley, we experience the birth and process of self-transformation found through the catalyst of sorrow and lost love. Through Ian’s journey, we are offered the uniquely poignant perspective of a man’s internal struggle with Self. In a desperate moment, he arrives at the Monastery, a place where time stands still. Here, he finds solace to soothe his soul and to meditate on the Zen riddle, “can you manifest your true nature while staring at the pieces of your broken heart?”

#8. Lean Fall Stand

by Jon McGregor

Publisher: Catapult

Genre: Psychological / Suspense

About the Book:

Remember the training: find shelter or make shelter, remain in place,establish contact with other members of the party, keep moving, keep calm.

Robert ‘Doc’ Wright, a veteran of Antarctic surveying, was there on the ice when the worst happened. He holds within him the complete story of that night—but depleted by the disaster, Wright is no longer able to communicate the truth. Instead, in the wake of the catastrophic expedition, he faces the most daunting adventure of his life: learning a whole new way to be in the world. Meanwhile Anna, his wife, must suddenly scramble to navigate the sharp and unexpected contours of life as a caregiver.

From the Booker Prize-longlisted, American Academy of Arts & Letters Award-winning author of Reservoir 13, this is a novel every bit as mesmerizing as its setting. Tenderly unraveling different notions of heroism through the rippling effects of one extraordinary expedition on an ordinary family, Lean Fall Stand explores the indomitable human impulse to turn our experiences into stories—even when the words may fail us.

#9. I’m Not Hungry But I Could Eat

by Christopher Gonzalez

Publisher: SFWP

Genre: Short Fiction / Hispanic American

About the Book:

Long nights, empty stomachs, and impulsive cravings haunt these stories. A college grad reunites with a high school crush when invited to his bachelor party, a lonely cat-sitter wreaks havoc on his friends’ apartment, happy hour french fries leave more than grease on lips and fingers, and, squeezed into a diner booth, one man eats past his limit for the sake of friendship. Exploring the lives of bisexual and gay Puerto Rican men, these fifteen stories show a vulnerable, intimate world of yearning and desire. The stars of these narratives linger between living their truest selves and remaining in the wings, embarking on a journey of self-discovery to satisfy their hunger for companionship and belonging.

#10. That Was

by Sarayu Srivatsa

Publisher: Platypus Press

Genre: Literary / Coming of Age

About the Book:

Orphaned at six with no memory of what happened to her family, Kavya was raised in the bustling city of Bombay by her uncle and aunt. In fleeting moments, like her time in Bangalore with spirited teenager Malli or her summers in Kyoto with budding architect Yasunari and his ageing grandparents, the truth of her traumatic past is revealed.

With an eclectic cast of characters—including timid photographer Ryu, rebellious artist Akiko, and the mysterious S-san—she searches for clarity on the streets of Tokyo and truth in the mountain villages of the Himalayas. In this poignant coming-of-age story, what Kavya discovers within turbulent dreams and vibrant memories will shape and nurture the woman she will become.

#11. Winterset Hollow

by Jonathan Edward Durham

Winterset Hollow is included in this year's list of impressive indie press books.

Publisher: Credo House Publishers

Genre: Fantasy / Suspense

About the Book:

Everyone has wanted their favorite book to be real, if only for a moment. Everyone has wished to meet their favorite characters, if only for a day. But be careful in that wish, for even a history laid in ink can be repaid in flesh and blood, and reality is far deadlier than fiction . . . especially on Addington Isle.

Winterset Hollow follows a group of friends to the place that inspired their favorite book—a timeless tale about a tribe of animals preparing for their yearly end-of-summer festival. But after a series of shocking discoveries, they find that much of what the world believes to be fiction is actually fact, and that the truth behind their beloved story is darker and more dangerous than they ever imagined. It’s Barley Day . . . and you’re invited to the hunt.

Winterset Hollow is as thrilling as it is terrifying and as smart as it is surprising. A uniquely original story filled with properly unexpected twists and turns, Winterset Hollow delivers complex, indelible characters and pulse- pounding action as it storms toward an unforgettable climax that will leave you reeling. How do you celebrate Barley Day? You run, friend. You run.

#12. Born Into This

by Adam Thompson

Publisher: Two Dollar Radio

Genre: Short Fiction / Australian / Indigenous

About the Book:

The remarkable stories in Born Into This are eye-opening, razor-sharp, and entertaining, often all at once.

From an Aboriginal ranger trying to instill some pride in wayward urban teens on the harsh islands off the coast of Tasmania, to those scraping by on the margins of white society railroaded into complex and compromised decisions, Adam Thompson presents a powerful indictment of colonialism and racism.

With humor, pathos, and the occasional sly twist, Thompson’s characters confront discrimination, untimely funerals, classroom politics, the ongoing legacy of cultural destruction, and — overhanging all like a discomforting, burgeoning awareness for both black and white Australia — the inexorable disappearance of the remnant natural world.

#13. Reset

by Paolo Pergola

Publisher: Sagging Meniscus Press

Genre: Literary / Existential

About the Book:

Lapo is a marine biologist who wakes up one day in a hospital bed after an accident that caused him amnesia. When distant memories slowly resurface and the weight of modern life becomes apparent, he realizes that having an empty head was not so bad. Like a present-day Oblomov, Lapo clings to his hospital routine to avoid the outside world, fending off the attacks of family and friends who continuously pester him. As the days go by, the pressure for Lapo to go back to his normal life keeps mounting. Will he ever leave the hospital or will he settle there for good?

Lost pieces of his history may provide the answer. Interspersed with intimate thoughts and daydreams about the lives of the fish he used to study, Lapo’s epic struggle is filled with irony and depth in equal measure. Nostalgic and provocative, Reset is an existentialist journey through the inner world of a man who has lost the thread of life and finds it again in nature and his past.

#14. Swan Song

by Elizabeth B. Splaine

Publisher: Woodhall Press

Genre: Historical Fiction

About the Book:

Ursula Becker’s operatic star is on the rise in Nazi Berlin…until she discovers that she is one-quarter Jewish. Although Hitler is aware of her lineage, her popularity and exquisite voice protect her and her family from persecution. When William Patrick Hitler arrives in Germany and is offered employment by his Uncle Adolf, a chance encounter with Ursula leads to a romantic relationship that further shields the young diva from mistreatment. But for how long?

Ursula is ordered to sing at Hitler’s Berghof estate where she throws down a gauntlet that unleashes the wrath of the megalomaniacal leader. Fearing for her life, Ursula and Willy decide to emigrate to England. But as the ship is about to sail, Ursula disappears. Willy crosses the globe in an effort to find her, even as his uncle taunts him, relishing in the horror of the murderous cat-and-mouse game.

#15. Alien Stories

by E.C. Osondu

Publisher: BOA Editions

Genre: Short Fiction / Science Fiction

About the Book:

Celebrated Nigerian-born writer E.C. Osondu delivers a short-story collection of nimble dexterity and startling originality in his BOA Short Fiction Prize-winning Alien Stories.

These eighteen startling stories, each centered around an encounter with the unexpected, explore what it means to be an alien. With a nod to the dual meaning of alien as both foreigner and extraterrestrial, Osondu turns familiar science-fiction tropes and immigration narratives on their heads, blending one with the other to call forth a whirlwind of otherness. With wry observations about society and human nature, in shifting landscapes from Africa to America to outer space and back again, Alien Stories breaks down the concept of foreignness to reveal what unites us all as ‘aliens’ within a complex and interconnected universe.

#16. Moon and the Mars

by Kia Corthron

Publisher: Seven Stories Press

Genre: Historical Fiction / African American

About the Book:

An exploration of NYC and America in the burgeoning moments before the start of the Civil War through the eyes of a young, biracial girl—the highly anticipated new novel from the winner of the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize.

“Corthron, a true heir to James Baldwin, presents a startlingly original exposure of the complex roots of American racism.” —Naomi Wallace, MacArthur “Genius” Playwriting Fellow and author of One Flea Spare

In Moon and the Mars, set in the impoverished Five Points district of New York City in the years 1857-1863, we experience neighborhood life through the eyes of Theo from childhood to adolescence, an orphan living between the homes of her Black and Irish grandmothers. Throughout her formative years, Theo witnesses everything from the creation of tap dance to P.T. Barnum’s sensationalist museum to the draft riots that tear NYC asunder, amidst the daily maelstrom of Five Points work, hardship, and camaraderie. Meanwhile, white America’s attitudes towards people of color and slavery are shifting—painfully, transformationally—as the nation divides and marches to war.

As with her first novel, The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter, which was praised by Viet Thanh Nguyen, Robin D.G. Kelley, and Angela Y. Davis, among many others, Corthron’s use of dialogue brings her characters to life in a way that only an award-winning playwright and scriptwriter can do. As Theo grows and attends school, her language and grammar change, as does her own vocabulary when she’s with her Black or Irish families. It’s an extraordinary feat and a revelation for the reader.

#17. The Gold Persimmon

by Lindsay Merbaum

Publisher: Creature Publishing

Genre: Horror / Thriller

About the Book:

Clytemnestra is a check-in girl at The Gold Persimmon, a temple-like New York City hotel with gilded furnishings and carefully guarded secrets. Cloistered in her own reality, Cly lives by a strict set of rules until a connection with a troubled hotel guest threatens the world she’s so carefully constructed.

In a parallel reality, an inexplicable fog envelops the city, trapping a young, nonbinary writer named Jaime in a sex hotel with six other people. As the survivors begin to turn on one another, Jaime must navigate a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Haunted by specters of grief and familial shame, Jaime and Cly find themselves trapped in dual narratives in this gripping experimental novel that explores sexuality, surveillance, and the very nature of storytelling.

#18. Beautiful, Violent Things

by Madeline Anthes

Publisher: Word West

Genre: Short Fiction / Literary

About the Book:

“Drunk ghosts, feral mothers…riveting obsessions and unbelongings and captivities-the fragmented texts in Beautiful, Violent Things seethe and grip and fluoresce without apology. In these eleven dispatches, Madeline Anthes carefully weaves desire and estrangement, reimagines power as a woman’s capacity for hollowing a man, the ability to deliver impossibilities from her misappropriated body. The speakers in this collection compose a primal song, reprise-with blood and feathers and new ferocity-the iconoclastic feminisms of Kate Chopin and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Anthes is alive on the page, a writer to watch.”

– Tara Stillions Whitehead, author of Blood Histories

#19. Reunion of the Good Weather Suicide Cult

by Kyle McCord

Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Genre: Thriller / Psychological

About the Book:

This gripping drama follows Tom Duncan, the sole survivor of the largest cult mass suicide in U.S. history, as he works to rebuild his shattered life. After a Netflix documentary accuses Tom of masterminding the plot that led to the deaths of one hundred thirty-seven people, including his wife, he finds himself exiled from his home and family. Tom seeks redemption through a weekend memorial with other cult members who escaped before the grisly end.

In Reunion of the Good Weather Suicide Cult by Kyle McCord, we see how well-meaning people seeking spiritual community can become ensnared in webs of intrigue and deadly manipulation. Through the lens of a Netflix documentary as well as Tom’s personal struggle, this book takes readers on a journey through the dark heart of a simple Iowa commune gone horribly wrong.

#20. Tastes Like War

by Grace M. Cho

Tastes like war by grace m cho included in this year's indie press book list

Publisher: Feminist Press

Genre: Memoir / Asian American

About the Book:

This evocative memoir of food and family history is “somehow both mouthwatering and heartbreaking… [and] a potent personal history” (Shelf Awareness).

Grace M. Cho grew up as the daughter of a white American merchant marine and the Korean bar hostess he met abroad. They were one of few immigrants in a xenophobic small town during the Cold War, where identity was politicized by everyday details—language, cultural references, memories, and food. When Grace was fifteen, her dynamic mother experienced the onset of schizophrenia, a condition that would continue and evolve for the rest of her life.

Part food memoir, part sociological investigation, Tastes Like War is a hybrid text about a daughter’s search through intimate and global history for the roots of her mother’s schizophrenia. In her mother’s final years, Grace learned to cook dishes from her parent’s childhood in order to invite the past into the present, and to hold space for her mother’s multiple voices at the table. And through careful listening over these shared meals, Grace discovered not only the things that broke the brilliant, complicated woman who raised her—but also the things that kept her alive.

#21. Now Beacon, Now Sea

by Christopher Sorrentino

Publisher: Catapult

Genre: Memoir / Family / Grief

About the Book:

A wrenching debut memoir of familial grief by a National Book Award finalist—and a defining account of what it means to love and lose a difficult parent, for readers of Joan Didion and Dani Shapiro.

When Christopher Sorrentino’s mother died in 2017, it marked the end of a journey that had begun eighty years earlier in the South Bronx. Victoria’s life took her to the heart of New York’s vibrant mid-century downtown artistic scene, to the sedate campus of Stanford, and finally back to Brooklyn—a journey witnessed by a son who watched, helpless, as she grew more and more isolated, distancing herself from everyone and everything she’d ever loved.

In examining the mystery of his mother’s life, from her dysfunctional marriage to his heedless father, the writer Gilbert Sorrentino, to her ultimate withdrawal from the world, Christopher excavates his own memories and family folklore in an effort to discover her dreams, understand her disappointments, and peel back the ways in which she seemed forever trapped between two identities: the Puerto Rican girl identified on her birth certificate as Black, and the white woman she had seemingly decided to become. Meanwhile Christopher experiences his own transformation, emerging from under his father’s shadow and his mother’s thumb to establish his identity as a writer and individual—one who would soon make his own missteps and mistakes.

Unfolding against the captivating backdrop of a vanished New York, a city of cheap bohemian enclaves and a thriving avant-garde—a dangerous, decaying, but liberated and potentially liberating place—Now Beacon, Now Sea is a matchless portrait of the beautiful, painful messiness of life, and the transformative power of even conflicted grief.

#22. A Constellation of Ghosts

by Laraine Herring

Publisher: Regal House Publishing

Genre: Memoir / Speculative

About the Book:

A ghost is not what you think it is, says Raven. A ghost is a commitment. When Laraine Herring receives an unexpected colon cancer diagnosis, her father, thirty years dead, returns to her as a raven, setting off a magical journey into complicated grief, inherited trauma, and ancestral healing. As she struggles with redefining her expectations for her life, she slips further and further underground into the ancestral realm, where she finds herself writing a play directed by her father-as-raven. Raven says, It will be a cast of only four: you and me and my mother and my father, and we will speak until there are no more words between us. And then you can decide the ending. Tick, tock, write. A Constellation of Ghosts takes the reader into the liminal spaces between one world and another, where choices unspool into lives, and the stories we’ve told ourselves fall apart under the scrutiny of multiple perspectives like flesh from bone, reminding us that grief is the unexpected ferryman who can usher all of us back together again.

#23. Madder: A Memoir in Weeds

by Marco Wilkinson

Publisher: Coffee House Press

Genre: Memoir / LGBTQ

About the Book:

Madder, matter, mater—a weed, a state of mind, a material, a meaning, a mother. Essayist and horticulturist Marco Wilkinson searches for the roots of his own selfhood among family myths and memories.

“My life, these weeds.” Marco Wilkinson uses his deep knowledge of undervalued plants, mainly weeds—invisible yet ubiquitous, unwanted yet abundant, out-of-place yet flourishing—as both structure and metaphor in these intimate vignettes. Madder combines poetic meditations on nature, immigration, queer sensuality, and willful forgetting with recollections of Wilkinson’s Rhode Island childhood and glimpses of his maternal family’s life in Uruguay. The son of a fierce, hard-working mother who tried to erase even the memory of his absent father from their lives, Wilkinson investigates his heritage with a mixture of anger and empathy as he wrestles with the ambiguity of his own history. Using a verdant iconography rich with wordplay and symbolism, Wilkinson offers a mesmerizing portrait of cultivating belonging in an uprooted world.

#24. To Those Bounded

by Donald Edem Quist

Publisher: AWST Press

Genre: Black & African American Studies

About the Book:

An examination of Black exceptionalism and the mythos of criminality among African American men.

Edited by Tatiana Ryckman. Is it possible to be free while bound by an American myth? TO THOSE BOUNDED explores the effects of living in the far-reaching shadow of stereotypes, and the pressures one feels when their actions are always framed as reinforcing or rejecting an ethnic caricature. In this collection the author reflects on how popular media have shaped his identity, and how he’s learned to navigate the expectations it creates. Drawing inspiration from MAUD MARTHA by Gwendolyn Brooks and PENS…ES by Blaise Pascal, the personal vignettes that compose TO THOSE BOUNDED examine Black exceptionalism and the mythos of criminality among African American men.

#25. Craft in the Real World

by Matthew Salesses

Craft in the real world by matthew salesses is included in this year's indie press book list

Publisher: Catapult

Genre: Publishing & Writing

About the Book:

The traditional writing workshop was established with white male writers in mind; what we call craft is informed by their cultural values. In this bold and original examination of elements of writing—including plot, character, conflict, structure, and believability—and aspects of workshop—including the silenced writer and the imagined reader—Matthew Salesses asks questions to invigorate these familiar concepts. He upends Western notions of how a story must progress. How can we rethink craft, and the teaching of it, to better reach writers with diverse backgrounds? How can we invite diverse storytelling traditions into literary spaces?

Drawing from examples including One Thousand and One Nights, Curious George, Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, and the Asian American classic No-No Boy, Salesses asks us to reimagine craft and the workshop. In the pages of exercises included here, teachers will find suggestions for building syllabi, grading, and introducing new methods to the classroom; students will find revision and editing guidance, as well as a new lens for reading their work. Salesses shows that we need to interrogate the lack of diversity at the core of published fiction: how we teach and write it. After all, as he reminds us, “When we write fiction, we write the world.”

#26. Wife | Daughter | Self

by Beth Kephart

Publisher: Forest Avenue Press

Genre: Memoir / Essays / Identity

About the Book:

Wife | Daughter | Self investigates identity and the writing life through the perspective of one of the nation’s top memoir teachers and critics.

How are we shaped by the people we love? Who are we when we think no one else is watching? How do we trust the choices we make? The answers shift as the years go by. The stories remake themselves as we remember. Curiously, inventively, Beth Kephart reflects on the iterative, composite self in her new memoir—traveling to lakes and rivers, New Mexico and Mexico, the icy waters of Alaska and a hot-air balloon launch in search of understanding. She is accompanied, often, by her Salvadoran-artist husband. She spends time, a lot of time, with her widowed father. As she looks at them she ponders herself and comes to terms with the person she is still becoming. At once sweeping and intimate, Wife | Daughter | Self is a memoir built of interlocking essays by an acclaimed author, teacher, and critic.

#27. Before the Earth Devours Us

by Esteban Rodriguez

Publisher: Split/Lip Press

Genre: Essays / Personal Memoir

About the Book:

In Esteban Rodríguez’s debut essay collection Before the Earth Devours Us, a young boy emerges from the valley of childhood memories, curious and seeking to understand a world that is violent, uncertain, and as full of loss as it is of life from the people who inhabit it. Here, the pages unfurl with uncles engaged in physical conflict; dogs roam neighborhoods and alleyways; a dead bird is used as a play object; and our protagonist, through observation and conflict of his own, begins to make sense of the impact he and his body have on others. Lyrical, engaging, and always honest, Rodríguez’s memorable collection reminds us that the past is never beyond language’s redemption.

#28. White Magic

by Elissa Washuta

Publisher: Tin House Books

Genre: Essays / Native & Indigenous

About the Book:

Bracingly honest and powerfully affecting, White Magic establishes Elissa Washuta as one of our best living essayists.

Throughout her life, Elissa Washuta has been surrounded by cheap facsimiles of Native spiritual tools and occult trends, “starter witch kits” of sage, rose quartz, and tarot cards packaged together in paper and plastic. Following a decade of abuse, addiction, PTSD, and heavy-duty drug treatment for a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder, she felt drawn to the real spirits and powers her dispossessed and discarded ancestors knew, while she undertook necessary work to find love and meaning.

In this collection of intertwined essays, she writes about land, heartbreak, and colonization, about life without the escape hatch of intoxication, and about how she became a powerful witch. She interlaces stories from her forebears with cultural artifacts from her own life―Twin Peaks, the Oregon Trail II video game, a Claymation Satan, a YouTube video of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham―to explore questions of cultural inheritance and the particular danger, as a Native woman, of relaxing into romantic love under colonial rule.

#29. Things That Crash, Things That Fly

by Scott Gould

Things that crash, things that fly is included in this year's indie press book list

Publisher: Vine Leaves Press

Genre: Memoir / Travel / Fatherhood

About the Book:

As a husband and wife make plans for an Italian vacation with friends-to visit her family’s Tuscan village-she makes an unexpected, last-minute addition to the itinerary: she plans to leave him upon their return to the States. And her bombshell includes a strange caveat. He isn’t allowed to breathe a word of it to their traveling companions. So begins Things That Crash, Things That Fly, the groundbreaking new memoir from award-winning writer Scott Gould.

Gould navigates that awkward vacation with his soon-to-be estranged wife in Serra, Italy, then sets out on another, longer journey-a winding route through heartbreak and anger, confusion and futility, despair and discovery. When Gould wangles (under dubious circumstances) a fellowship to research the death of William Guilfoil, a young WWII fighter pilot who crashed and died in the hills near Serra, he instead sets his sights on clarity and closure in his ex-wife’s ancestral home. As he grinds through an uncharted future, his story and Guilfoil’s become intertwined, and Gould gathers the fragments of a fractured heart. With a brutal honesty tempered with surprising humor, he tells us how he begins to stitch them back together.

Things That Crash, Things That Fly is about many things: lost love, daughters and fathers, evaporating marriage, Italian sandals, friendship, bad knees, acrobatic birds, secrecy, oddly placed piercings…but most of all, Gould’s inventive memoir is about how it’s truly possible to rise and soar, even after you’ve struck the ground.

#30. Funeral for Flaca

by Emilly Prado

Publisher: Future Tense Books

Genre: Memoir / Hispanic & Latino

About the Book:

Funeral for Flaca is an exploration of things lost and found-love, identity, family-and the traumas that transcend bodies, borders, cultures, and generations.

Emilly Prado retraces her experience coming of age as a prep-turned-chola-turned-punk in this collection that is one-part memoir-in-essays, and one-part playlist, zigzagging across genres and decades, much like the rapidly changing and varied tastes of her youth. Emilly spends the late 90’s and early aughts looking for acceptance as a young Chicana growing up in the mostly-white suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area before moving to Portland, Oregon in 2008. Ni de aquí, ni de allá, she tries to find her place in the in between.

Growing up, the boys reject her, her father cheats on her mother, then the boys cheat on her and she cheats on them. At 21-years-old, Emilly checks herself into a psychiatric ward after a mental breakdown. One year later, she becomes a survivor of sexual assault. A few years after that, she survives another attempted assault. She searches for the antidote that will cure her, cycling through love, heartbreak, sex, an eating disorder, alcohol, an ever-evolving style, and, of course, music.

She captures the painful reality of what it means to lose and find your identity, many times over again. For anyone who has ever lost their way as a child or as an adult, Funeral for Flaca unravels the complex layers of an unpredictable life, inviting us into an intimate and honest journey profoundly told with humor and heart by Emilly Prado.

#31. Ceive

by B.K. Fischer

Publisher: BOA Editions

Genre: Narrative Poem / Nature

About the Book:

A poetic retelling of Noah’s Ark set in the near future, Ceive is a novella in verse that recounts a post-apocalyptic journey aboard a container ship.

This contemporary flood narrative unfolds through poems following the perspective of a woman named Val, who is found in the wreckage of her flooding home by a former UPS delivery man. As environmental and political catastrophes force them to flee the Eastern Seaboard, Val and her rescuer take refuge alongside a group of pilgrims seeking refuge from the catastrophic collapse of a civilization destroyed by gun violence, climate crisis, and social unrest.

The ship of cargo and refugees is run by the captain Nolan and his wife Nadia, who set sail for Greenland, now warmed to a temperate climate. The couple place Val in charge of caring for a neurodivergent young boy who holds knowledge of analog navigation. Mourning her missing daughter, Val experiences both isolation and a wellspring of compassion in survival, an indefatigable need to connect. She and the other pilgrims weather illness and peril, boredom and conflict, deprivation and despair as they set sail across stormy, unfamiliar waters.

Drawing from the Anglo-Saxon poem The Seafarer, the Bible, and the Latin root word in receive, Ceive is a vision of eco-cataclysm and survival―inviting meditations on biodiversity, illness, social law, sustenance, scripture, menopause, sensory perception, human bonds, caregiving, and loss, all the while extending a call for renewal and hope.

#32. The Animal Indoors

by Carly Inghram

Publisher: Autumn House Press

Genre: Black & African American / LGBTQ

About the Book:

Poems following a Black queer woman as she seeks refuge from an unsafe world.
Carly Inghram’s poems explore the day-to-day experiences of a Black queer woman who is ceaselessly bombarded with images of mass-consumerism, white supremacy, and sexism, and who is forced, often reluctantly, back indoors and away from this outside chaos. The poems in The Animal Indoors seek to understand and define the boundaries between our inside and outside lives, critiquing the homogenization and increasing insincerity of American culture and considering what safe spaces exist for Black women. The speaker in these poems seeks refuge, working to keep the interior safe until we can reckon with the world outside, until the speaker is able to “unleash the indoor news onto the unclean water elsewhere.”

#33. Leap Thirty

by Diane Lowell Wilder

Publisher: June Road Press

About the Book:

This visceral debut collection is a dance across the decades. In thirty spare and gripping poems, Diane Lowell Wilder recasts midlife as a second coming of age: a time of new vulnerabilities and strengths, breakdown and renewal, constraint and release. In the process, she lands on vital sources of affirmation and resilience—in being a parent, in embracing change, in letting go, in reclaiming agency. Here is the aftermath of divorce and the landscape of later romance, the strain of watching parents age, the anxieties of motherhood, an aching hip, bold moves, fresh starts. Ever aware that the past and future are always bound up in the present, Wilder shows us how a poetic exploration of personal history, even when it means wrestling with loss, can help us gain perspective and maybe even a new sense of freedom and direction.

#34. Peculiar Heritage

by Demisty D. Bellinger

Publisher: Mason Jar Press

About the Book:

African & African American Studies. Women’s Studies. The shock of American violence and hate shouldn’t be shocking at all. This is our peculiar heritage from an ugly institution. Still; we are not without resistance and PECULIAR HERITAGE; a collection of imagery and rhythm-heavy poems; is a resistance narrative to the present political climate and a regime in the U.S. that rejects culture and inclusion. Bellinger’s poetic style is heavy on imagery and rhythm. Combining love poems–of self; of nature and life–with heavier; weight of responsibility narratives and poems; PECULIAR HERITAGE explores how we live in a country built on freedom; individualism; and exceptionalism; but only for the ruling class.

#35. We Are Invited to Climb

by Andrew Yoon

Publisher: AWST Press

About the Book:

WE ARE INVITED TO CLIMB is a collection of partly computer-generated chance poems exploring “the bigandsmall.” At once a celebration of the impossible and the very real, the poems are made of refrigerator hums and upside-down kites. Watercolor stains and valley peaks. Written using groundbreaking new techniques in generative poetry, the world Yoon creates reckons with contradiction: the sameness of other and self, choice and constraint, sense and nonsense. Through whimsy and experimentation, Yoon taps into the depths of humanity– the algorithm we all share.

And…that’s all you’re getting from me this year! What were your favorite indie press books this year?

About the Curator

Joe Walters IBR founder

Joe Walters is the founder and editor-in-chief of Independent Book Review and a book marketing specialist at Sunbury Press. When he’s not doing editorial, promoting, or reviewing work, he’s working on his novel and trusting the process.

Thank you for reading “35 Impressive Indie Press Books of 2021” by Joe Walters! If you liked what you read, please spend some more time with us at the links below.

9 comments on “35 Impressive Indie Press Books of 2021

  1. Pingback: Best Books of 2021 | The Bookslinger

  2. Thanks! Now I know of a couple more appropriate publishers to send my book to. Tupelo Press really liked it but it wasn’t fur their label, if that’s the right term. I used to be in music biz! Good luck!

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  5. Thanks for sharing such a great information.. It really helpful to me.

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