Past Selections | University of Portland

Past Selections

2022-2023 - The Great Believers - Rebecca Makkai

The Great Believers book cover

“The Great Believers soars… Makkai has full command of her multi-generational perspective, and by its end, The Great Believers offers a grand fusion of the past and the present, the public and the personal. It’s remarkably alive despite all the loss it encompasses. And it’s right on target in addressing how the things that the world throws us feel gratuitously out of step with the lives we think we’re leading.” ~The Chicago Tribune

"Rebecca Makkai is the Chicago-based author of the novels The Great BelieversThe Hundred-Year House, and The Borrower, as well as the short story collection Music for WartimeThe Great Believers was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and received the ALA Carnegie Medal and the LA Times Book Prize, among other honors. Makkai is on the MFA faculties of Sierra Nevada College and Northwestern University, and she is Artistic Director of StoryStudio Chicago."

2021-2022 - Transcendent Kingdom - Yaa Gyasi

book cover of Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Transcendent Kingdom is a novel about faith, science, religion, and family. A deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression, addiction, and grief, it’s narrated by a fifth-year candidate in neuroscience at Stanford school of medicine studying the neural circuits of reward-seeking behavior in mice.

"Yaa Gyasi is the author of the highly acclaimed debut novel Homegoing and a recipient of the National Book Foundation's 2016 "5 Under 35" Award. Gyasi was born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. She holds a BA in English from Stanford University and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she held a Dean’s Graduate Research Fellowship. Her second novel, Transcendent Kingdom, was published in September 2020. She lives in New York City."
~ Penguin Random House

2020-2021 - How to Be an Antiracist - Ibram Kendi

book cover of How to Be an Antiracist

"Ibram X. Kendi's new book, How to Be an Antiracist, couldn't come at a better time. . . . How to Be an Antiracist gives us a clear and compelling way to approach, as Kendi puts it in his introduction, 'the basic struggle we're all in, the struggle to be fully human and to see that others are fully human.' " ~ NPR

"Ibram X. Kendi is one of America’s foremost historians and leading antiracist scholars. He is a National Book Award-winning and #1 New York Times bestselling author. Kendi is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and the Founding Director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research. Kendi is a contributor writer at The Atlantic and a CBS News Racial Justice Contributor. He is also the 2020-2021 Frances B. Cashin Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for the Advanced Study at Harvard University. In 2020, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world." ~

2019-2020 - The Leavers - Lisa Ko

book cover of The Leavers
"The Leavers, Lisa Ko’s quietly sensational debut novel about migration, deportation and contested citizenship, is the story of a boy abandoned in the US by his Chinese mother, and the dark, devastating truth behind her disappearance from his life." ~The Guardian

"Lisa Ko was a 2017 National Book Award for Fiction finalist, won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, and was a finalist for the 2018 PEN/Hemingway Award and the 2017 Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Award. The Leavers was named a best book of the year by NPR, Entertainment Weekly, BuzzFeed, The Los Angeles Times and others. Born in Queens and raised in Jersey, she lives in Brooklyn."

2018-2019 - Let the Great World Spin - Colum McCann

Cover of Let the Great World Spin
"An American masterpiece from internationally bestselling novelist Colum McCann—a dazzling and hauntingly rich vision of the loveliness, pain, and mystery of New York City in the 1970s.

Colum McCann is the author of six novels and three collections of stories. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, he has been the recipient of many international honours, including the National Book Award, the International Dublin Impac Prize, a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres from the French government, election to the Irish arts academy, several European awards, the 2010 Best Foreign Novel Award in China, and an Oscar nomination. In 2017 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts. His work has been published in over 40 languages. He is the co-founder of the non-profit global story exchange organisation, Narrative 4, and he teaches at the MFA program in Hunter College." ~

2017-2018 - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot

Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks book cover
This New York Times bestseller tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew.

Though best-known for The Immortal Life, Rebecca Skloot has written more than 200 feature articles, personal essays, book reviews, and news stories for The New York Times Magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine, Discover, Columbia Journalism Review, Seed, New York Magazine, Slate, Popular Science, the Chicago Tribune, and other publications. Her work has been anthologized in several collections, including Best Food Writing and Best Creative Nonfiction. She served as co-editor of The Best American Science Writing 2011 and has worked as a correspondent for NPR’s Radiolab and PBS’s Nova ScienceNOW. For more information:

2016-2017 - All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See book cover
All the Light We Cannot See is the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a blind French girl and a young German soldier whose paths cross in an unlikely way during World War II.

Anthony Doerr is the author of the story collections The Shell Collector and Memory Wall, the memoir Four Seasons in Rome, and the novels About Grace and All the Light We Cannot See, which was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. For more information:

2015-2016 - The Moor's Account - Laila Lalami

The Moor's Account book cover

The Moor's Account is the imagined memoirs of the first black explorer of America, a Moroccan slave whose testimony was left out of the official record.

Laila Lalami was born in Rabat and educated in Morocco, Great Britain, and the United States. She is the author of the novels Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award; Secret Son, which was on the Orange Prize longlist, and The Moor’s Account, which won the American Book Award, the Arab American Book Award, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. It was both a nominee for the Man Booker Prize and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. For more info:


2014-2015 - Charming Billy - Alice McDermott

Charming Billy book cover

Charming Billy is a New York Times bestseller, winner of the National Book Award and a finalist for the International Dublin IMPAC Literary Award. Alice McDermott's striking novel is a study of the lies that bind and the weight of familial love, of the way good intentions can be as destructive as the truth they were meant to hide.

Alice McDermott is the author of A Bigamist's Daughter, That Night, At Weddings and Wakes, Child of My Heart, After This, and many short stories. She is the winner of an American Book Award and National Book Award for Charming Billy and is a three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist as well as a Pen/Faulkner Award and International IMPAC Dublin Literary award finalist. McDermott was born in Brooklyn, New York, and is the Richard A. Macksey Professor of Humanities at Johns Hopkins University. For more info: