Theme-Based Reading Guide

Looking for some theme-based reading? Our Narrative Library is home to thousands of stories, poems, and essays that speak to the issues of our time—and for all time. This curated reading list is a small sample of work that addresses themes of Climate & Sustainability, Crossing Borders, Justice & Equality, LGBTQ+, Race & Ethnicity, and War & Violence.


This list was curated especially for our Ninth Annual High School Writing Contest and its prompt, My Note to the World, but there is much to be found here for writers and readers of every age.


Climate & Sustainability

Fiction

Lease Hound,” by Rick Bass
A Taste for Lionfish,” by Megan Mayhew Bergman
2 B R 0 2 B,” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


Nonfiction

Oil,” by Rick Bass
Letter to a Young Writer,” by T. C. Boyle
The Comfort of Crows,” by Margaret Renkl


Poetry

The Idea of Antarctica,” by Kōan Brink
Daydreaming,” by DeeSoul Carson
Birdsong,” by Chase Twichell


Crossing Borders

Fiction

A Small Blip on an Eternal Timeline,” by Ifeoma Sesiana Amobi
The End of Life,” by Yoon Choi
Cerromar,” by Kevin A. González
Free Food for Millionaires,” by Min Jin Lee
Neighborly Favors,” by Ilana Sichel
The Rickshaw Wallah,” by Jeannie Tseng


Nonfiction

The Departure,” by Monique Clesca
Cuban Portraits,” by Dahlma Llanos Figueroa
The Oil Sheikh,” by Ned Parker


Poetry

Across the Sea: A Sequence,” by Gbenga Adesina
Do You Speak Persian?,” by Kaveh Akbar
Bedtime Stories,” by Yasmine Ameli
Homeland,” by Mehul Bhagat
It Might Be a Hurricane Year,” by Bernard Ferguson
Prayer Before Turning on the News,” by Hila Ratzabi
Caremlita/Michael,” by Michael A. Reyes
Day of the Refugios,” by Alberto Álvaro Ríos
A Separate Set of Signs,” by Jenny M. Xie
Nocturne,” by Javier Zamora


Justice & Equality

Fiction

Devil’s Child,” by Farnaz Fassihi
Naked in the River,” by Julie Hébert
Wild Snow,” by Jacqueline Jones LaMon
Sequestered,” by Tina Nettesheim
The Bedwarmer,” by Nathan Poole
The Dishwashing Women,” by Tryphena L. Yeboah
Thirst,” by Taymiya R. Zaman


Nonfiction

East Toledo, Ohio,” by Mermer Blakeslee
The Story of Sojourner Truth,” by Bridget Quinn
Landscapes with Lester,” by Abe Louise Young


Poetry

Why Are You Afraid?,” by Yasmine Ameli
Barbie Chang’s Daughter Asks,” by Victoria Chang
By Land,” by Tyree Daye
America,” by Claude McKay
July, 2008,” by Karisma Price
Hysterical Strength,” by Nicole Sealey
Communication,” by Soren Stockman
Prayer on the Subdivision,” by Marcus Wicker


LGBTQ+

Fiction

Dirty Butter,” by Amy Bloom
Talinda,” by Chaya Bhuvaneswar
Kiss,” by Jackie Thomas-Kennedy
Annie,” by Katie Knoll
Fruit Flies,” by Meagan Macvie
What You Get,” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Columbia Livia,” by Lorain Urban
Arrangement,” by Douglas Wood


Nonfiction

Revisiting,” by Sylvia Brownrigg
Our Weapons,” by Maggie Panko


Poetry

Ode to Repetition,” by Ellen Bass
Seroconversion,” by Danez Smith
Sin,” by Ruth Stone
No One Knows the Way to Heaven,” by Ocean Vuong
Waterline,” by Ocean Vuong


Race & Ethnicity

Fiction

Women from Mars,” by Wesley Brown
Badger Mountain,” by Ryan Cannon
Kartika,” by Neha Chaudhary-Kamdar
The End of Life,” by Yoon Choi
Slope,” by Michael Croley
Lagos,” by Bridgett M. Davis
Rise the Euphrates,” by Carol Edgarian
The New Arrival,” by Adrianne Harun
A River of Stars,” by Vaness Hua
Neighborly Favors,” by Ilana Sichel
The Dishwashing Women,” by Trypehna L. Yeboah


Nonfiction

Letter to a Young Writer,” by Richard Bausch
That Ain’t Jazz,” by David Bradley
Takes Enemy,” by Shann Ray
But I Digress . . . ,” by Lynne Sharon Schwartz


Poetry

How to Be a Real Indian,” by Kenzie Allen
The Tradition,” by Jericho Brown
Barbie Chang’s Daughter Asks,” by Victoria Chang
Muslim Girlhood,” by Leila Chatti
Tradition,” by Ebony Chinn
won’t you celebrate with me,” by Lucille Clifton
I Search for Koreatown,” by Megan Kim
Cul-de-Sac,” by Dujie Tahat


War & Violence

Fiction

All That Floats,” by Nishant Batsha
Smoke Jumpers,” by Gregory Brown
Shallow Sea,” by Heather Brittain Bergstrom
Invasion, Day 3,” by Stephanie Cotsirilos
Emily,” by E. L. Doctorow
The Spectators,” by Jennifer duBois
Crows, 1950,” by Heinz Insu Fenkl
Bangana,” by CJ Hauser
A Husband and Father,” by Maria Hummel
What We Left Behind,” by Mũthoni Kiarie
Chechnya,” by Anthony Marra
The Winter Soldier,” by Daniel Mason
Hands No Longer Mine,” by Susan Minot
Language Immersion Seoul,” by Jayne Anne Phillips
Another Christmas,” by William Trevor
Soldier’s Joy,” by Tobias Wolff
Where Is My Boy?,” by Aggie Zivaljevic


Nonfiction

Operation Iraqi Freedom,” by Jason Arment
If I Owned a Gun,” by Andre Dubus III
Budapest 1984,” by Marcella Hunyadi
Jerusalem According to Cats,” by Josip Novakovich
On to Baghdad,” by Ned Parker


Poetry

Across the Sea: A Sequence,” by Gbenga Adesina
Bedtime Stories,” by Yasmine Ameli
Homeland,” by Mehul Bhagat
Camphor,” by Julia Cariño
Dear Jesse Helms,” by Lucille Clifton
& the War Was in Its Infancy Then,” by Maurice Emerson Decaul
The Stormtroopers of My Country,” by Tishani Doshi
Polio,” by Richard Jones
Bosnia Bosnia,” by June Jordan
English,” by Yusef Komunyakaa
A New National Anthem,” by Ada Limón
Under the Mango Tree,” by Romeo Oriogun
All My Friends Are Sad & Bright,” by Cam Awkward-Rich
New Cold War,” by Grace H. Zhou



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