Not sure what book to dive into next? For your consideration, here is a shortlist of titles released in 2023 by University of Iowa grads, including the latest winner of the National Book Award for Fiction.

From poetry and fiction, to nonfiction and children’s literature, University of Iowa writers were prolific in 2023, releasing well over 100 titles in multiple genres.

On that list is Justin Torres’ novel Blackouts, which won the National Book Award in November. The Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate is the latest UI alum to earn the prestigious honor, joining Flannery O’Connor, John Irving, and Wallace Stegner, among others.

If you are looking for a new book to read or searching for a gift, check out this selection of Iowa literary work.


book cover for "All Black Everything" by Shane Book

All Black Everything

Author: Shane Book

Genre: Poetry

Summary: “The global reach of these poems works to collect and synthesize fragments of culture,” writes Kaie Kellough, author of Magnetic Equator. “Connections are established across time and distance. This synthesis happens as we read, and the rhythms of Black language and music become its measure.”

Related content: Book’s latest collection is part of the University of Iowa Press series Kuhl House Poets. Book, who earned an MFA from Iowa in 2002, is the recipient of the Archibald Lampman Award for his 2014 book, Congotronic, and a finalist for the Canadian Authors Association Award, the Ottawa Book Award, and the Griffin Poetry Prize. He lives in Vancouver and is an associate professor in the Department of Writing at the University of Victoria.

Give me the Goodreads page!: All Black Everything

book cover for An Autobiography of Skin

An Autobiography of Skin

Author: Lakiesha Carr

Genre: Fiction

Summary: Carr’s debut novel focuses on three generations of women in the South. The New York Times Book Review calls it powerful, noting it is “an admission of the fact that, for all the changes that have occurred in our society over the past 100 years, many Black people, both men and women, are still processing the trauma and violence caused by their body’s simultaneous hypervisibility and erasure.”

About the author: Carr, who earned an MFA from Iowa in 2015, is a writer and journalist from Texas. At Iowa, she was awarded a Maytag Fellowship for Excellence in Fiction and a Jeff and Vicki Edwards Postgraduate Fellowship in Fiction.

Give me the Goodreads page!: An Autobiography of Skin

book cover for Say Anarcha

Say Anarcha: A Young Woman, a Devious Surgeon, and the Harrowing Birth of Modern Women’s Health

Author: J.C. Hallman

Genre: Nonfiction

Summary: This book tells the story of J. Marion Sims, known as the father of modern gynecology, as well as a young, enslaved woman known as Anarcha, on whom Sims conducted experimental surgeries for years. Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, says the well-researched book “changes the historical narrative surrounding J. Marion Sims and engages us in a sober reckoning over the legacy of slavery, medical experimentation, and gynecology. This extraordinary book forces us to recognize that ‘Anarcha’ is a name we should say, remember, and reflect upon as we still contend with a history of racial injustice that has left us vulnerable to continuing racial disparities in health care, injustice, and unnecessary suffering.”

About the author: Hallman, the recipient of Guggenheim and McKnight Foundation fellowships, is a writer of fiction and nonfiction who earned an MFA from Iowa in 1991. He has written several books, including Wm & H’ry: Literature, Love, and the Letters Between William and Henry James, published by University of Iowa Press in 2013.

Give me the Goodreads page!: Say Anarcha: A Young Woman, a Devious Surgeon, and the Harrowing Birth of Modern Women’s Health

book cover for The Deluge

The Deluge

Author: Stephen Markley

Genre: Fiction

Summary: In this nearly-900-page epic tale, which The New York Times included in its “100 Notable Books of 2023” feature, Markley weaves disparate stories together as the near-future world faces an ecological crisis. The Washington Post calls the novel “a clear-eyed, climate-justice-minded page-turner,” while the Los Angeles Times deems it “an astonishing feat of procedural imagination, narrative construction, and scientific acumen.” Perhaps most intriguing is author Stephen King’s assessment: “If you read it, you’ll never forget it. Prophetic, terrifying, uplifting.”

About the author: Markley, author of the bestselling novel Ohio, earned an MFA from Iowa in 2015. The screenwriter and journalist has written storylines for Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building and was profiled in Iowa Magazine in 2022.

Give me the Goodreads page!: The Deluge

Hell if We Don't Change Our Ways book cover

Hell if We Don’t Change Our Ways: A Memoir

Author: Brittany Means

Genre: Memoir

Summary: Through a collection of essays, Means tells the story of a traumatic childhood, in which she and her brother were raised by a single mother escaping abusive relationships and navigating mental health issues and addiction. Jeannette Walls, who tells of her own harrowing childhood in The Glass Castle, calls the memoir “gut-wrenching but at the same time triumphant, harrowing yet exquisitely told … a story of survival that left me choked up and cheering.”

About the author: Means attended Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program and earned an MFA in 2020. She is a writer and editor living in New Mexico and has received several awards for her work, including the Magdalena Award, the Geneva Fellowship, the Grace Paley Fellowship, and the Herodotus Award.

Give me the Goodreads page!: Hell if We Don’t Change Our Ways: A Memoir

Back to the Bright Before book cover

Back to the Bright Before

Author: Katherin Nolte

Genre: Young adult fiction

Summary: In this book geared toward middle school readers, an 11-year-old girl and her 5-year-old brother go on a quest determined to save their family. “Like Oz or Narnia,” says Booklist, “the landscape will enchant readers looking for an eventful adventure.”

About the author: Nolte is an Iowa City writer who earned an MFA from Iowa in 2003. She has had her work appear in dozens of publications, but it was a late-night visit to the emergency room with her four children that inspired her to write this book. To help pass the time, she pulled a Kate DiCamillo book off the shelf—and got an idea for a young adult narrative. Two months later, the manuscript was complete, and it earned Nolte a two-book contract with Random House. The second book is slated for publication in 2024.

Give me the Goodreads page!: Back to the Bright Before

Always Crashing in the Same Car book cover

Always Crashing in the Same Car

Author: Lance Olsen

Genre: Fiction

Summary: Fans of David Bowie will want to check out this novel described by University of Alabama Press as “a prismatic, imaginative exploration of David Bowie’s last days.” Intrigued by the rock star from an early age, Olsen imagines the final months before Bowie’s 2016 death by exploring various points of view.

About the author: Olsen, who earned an MFA from Iowa in 1980, is the author of more than 30 books and the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and the Pushcart Prize. His short stories, essays, poems, and reviews have appeared in hundreds of journals, magazines, and anthologies. He recently retired from the University of Utah, where he taught experimental narrative theory and practice.

Give me the Goodreads page!: Always Crashing in the Same Car

The Diary Keepers: World War II in the Netherlands as Written by the People Who Lived Through It book cover

The Diary Keepers: World War II in the Netherlands as Written by the People Who Lived Through It

Author: Nina Siegal

Genre: Nonfiction

Summary: History buffs, take note. By examining the diaries of Dutch citizens, this book explores World War II and the Holocaust and questions why 75% of the Dutch Jewish community perished in the conflict. Says Benjamin Moser, the Pulitzer-winning author of Sontag, “Like an archaeologist excavating an ancient temple, Nina Siegal has dug up hundreds of stories of life under the unprecedented horror of Nazism, revealing the changing thoughts and shifting moods of heroes, villains, and victims. Until now, we only had a black-and-white image of these lives. Now, thanks to Siegal, we see them in living color.”

About the author: Siegal, who earned an MFA from Iowa in 2006, is a culture writer for The New York Times and is based in Amsterdam.

Give me the Goodreads page!: The Diary Keepers: World War II in the Netherlands as Written by the People Who Lived Through It

the Thomas Salto book cover

The Thomas Salto

Author: Timmy Straw

Genre: Poetry

Summary: This debut collection—listed by The New York Times as one of the top five poetry collections of 2023—takes its name from a difficult and dangerous gymnastics move popularized during the Cold War. “Musical and graceful like Super 8 movies of Victorian poetry, disjunctive and modern in its strange contiguities,” notes Russian-American writer Eugene Ostashevsky, “Timmy Straw’s The Thomas Salto employs great verbal precision to formulate sensations and perceptions, many of which give address to 1980s America and its inheritors.”

About the author: Straw, who earned an MFA from Iowa in 2021, is a poet, translator, and musician. Their work has appeared in The Yale Review, The Paris Review, and Annulet, among other publications, and has been supported by a Fulbright fellowship to Moscow. They currently are working on translations of the contemporary Russian poet Grigori Dashevsky.

Give me the Goodreads page!: The Thomas Salto

Blackouts book cover


Author: Justin Torres

Genre: Fiction

Summary: Blackouts is a conversation between two men—one dying—trading stories back and forth while weaving in queer history. Time magazine included the title, which won the National Book Award in November for its “aesthetic complexity, multiplicity, and beauty,” among 100 must-read books of 2023, saying it “illuminates the ways in which the lives and experiences of marginalized people have long been omitted from written records.” The New York Times also included it in its “100 Notable Books of 2023” feature.

About the author: Torres earned an MFA from Iowa in 2010 and teaches English at the University of California at Los Angeles. He worked on his bestselling debut novel, We the Animals, while he was at Iowa. That book has been translated into 15 languages and adapted into a feature film.

Give me the Goodreads page!: Blackouts

Explore writing at Iowa

For more than 75 years, the University of Iowa has been a leader in the writing arts, with more than 40 Pulitzer Prize winners, seven U.S. Poets Laureate, and countless award-winning playwrights, screenwriters, journalists, translators, novelists, and poets. The University of Iowa’s writing programs shape the landscape of American literature.

Other notable books by Iowa graduates published in 2023 include: