What to read next based on your favorite Tony nominee.

June 14, 2024, 1:25pm

This Sunday, Broadway will recognize some of the year’s plays and musicals with a shiny celebration and a great many inside jokes. Maybe you’ve seen some of the nominated plays. Or maybe you will, later, when they reach PBS or your town.

Either way, as a Lit Hub reader, you may be interested to know that some of this year’s biggest tickets are literary adaptations. Which prompted this viewer to wonder, what happens if we reverse-engineer the usual pipeline? And you leave the theatre with a wish to pick up a book? Well, dear reader, I’ve got that urge covered. Here are some prose recommendations based on some of this season’s biggest shows, i.e., your Tony bracket.


via today t Kalyne Coleman and Maechi Aharanwa in Jaja’s African Hair Braiding. (Matthew Murphy)

Jaja’s African Hair Braiding, Jocelyn Bioh

91A6a U9X S. AC UF10001000 QL80

Kaitlyn Greenidge, Libertie

Like Jaja, this beautifully structured novel depicts a totalizing mother/daughter relationship in which Mom is a charisma magnet who assumes her daughter will follow in her professional footsteps.

And for another fictional exploration of mothering in community, you might revisit Brit Bennett’s stellar debut, The Mothers.


april and rachel April Matthis and Rachel McAdams in Mary Jane. (Matthew Murphy)

Mary Jane, Amy Herzog

One of this year’s frontrunners for Best Play is this quiet, powerful meditation on the logistics of caregiving. If you’re likewise compelled by the agony and banality of chronic crises, or the village it can take to manage an emergency, you might appreciate these.

51rYSLE2ToL. AC UF10001000 QL80

Miriam Toews, All My Puny Sorrows

This is one of my constant recommendations. I love this witty, heartbreakingly frank story about two sisters who can’t save each other. Like MJ, this is a book that models how we bear unbearable things. It is stupid good. Please pick it up, if you’ve been hiding away from it, under a rock.

While I’m in the neighborhood? Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This is also sage on caregiving. A lot of the criticism of that much-feted debut novel dwelled on its internettiness. But its heart-cracking second half is a bona fide meditation in an emergency.


Celia Keenan Bolger and Jessica Lange in Mother Play Jessica Lange and Celia Keenan-Bolger in Mother Play. (Joan Marcus)

Mother Play, Paula Vogel

The great Paula Vogel is also dancing with motherhood this season, in her aptly titled Mother Play. I have two books for fans of this one.

36101014 1

Samuel Park, The Caregiver

In this lushly told story, the late Samuel Park examines, yes, another vexed mother/daughter relationship. But this one is a moving emotional thrill ride concerning the secrets we keep from our loved ones.

91GdEhsxQ7L. AC UF10001000 QL80

Gwendoline Riley, My Phantoms

For another angle on maddening matriarchs and the psychic ties they bind, look no further than this itchy-making portrait. Riley’s mother might be less glamorously charming than Rachel McAdams or Jessica Lange, but she’s no less plausible. Or mysterious to her children.


Sarah Paulson and Elle Fanning in Appropriate Sarah Paulson and Elle Fanning in Appropriate. (Joan Marcus)

Appropriate, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

In this thorny drama, a white family returns to their Arkansas homestead only to find ghosts in the attic. This script is a great read in itself.

81aeD7wPR9L. AC UF10001000 QL80

Mat Johnson, Loving Day 

But if you’re looking for fiction that troubles similar waters (re: the spiritual gymnastics some of us do to ignore race and racial violence, the fraught attics of American homes), I’d look to this smart, wicked offering from Mat Johnson.

9780449911877 us

Allan Gurganus, White People

Appropriate also inclined me to revisit the stories of Allan Gurganus, that self-appointed bard of the Southern white soul. This voicey, hilarious collection is worth digging into.


10 Kara Young Heather Alicia Simms Leslie Odom Jr. Vanessa Bell Calloway Billy Eugene Jones and Noah Robbins in PURLIE VICTORIOUS Photo by Marc J. Franklin Kara Young, Heather Alicia Simms, Leslie Odom, Jr., Vanessa Bell Calloway, Billy Eugene Jones, and Noah Robbins in Purlie Victorious. (Marc J. Franklin)

Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch, Ossie Davis

Ossie Davis’ madcap romp about a Black preacher’s attempts to regain his inheritance in the Jim Crow South is all farce logic and linguistic pyrotechnics. If you likewise relish a belly laugh as much as a founding contradiction, it’s probably time to get your Reed on.

81njH9GTCQL. AC UF10001000 QL80

Ishmael Reed, Flight to Canada

This wild, verging-on-preposterous send-up of the fugitive slave narrative is as funny as Purlie’s foils. Start with this one, then get the rest of the canon out of the library. There’s a clear line from this mad genius/satirist to Percival Everett.


1 hellskitchen 0023rr Maleah Joi Moon and company of Hell’s Kitchen. (Joan Marcus)

Hell’s Kitchen, Alicia Keys and Kristoffer Diaz

Alicia Keys’ jukebox musical is a sumptuous coming-of-age celebration, concerning a 17 year old New Yorker with artistic dreams.


Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X

That put me in mind of this much lauded young adult novel from Elizabeth Acevedo. This National Book Award nominee is told in verse, and it follows Xiomara, another rising poet living in the big city.

If you (rightly) love the ecstatic prose but prefer the R rating, Acevedo recently published her first novel for adults. Check out her magically tinged, multi-generational novel, Family Lore.


ILLINOISE BROADWAY 0681 PJZEDIT v001 Ben Cook and company of Illinoise. (Matthew Murphy)

Illinoise, Sufjan Stevens, Jackie Sibblies Drury, and Justin Peck

This movement theatre piece scored by Sufjan Stevens’ opus-of-the-aughts is effectively an Odyssey. (Boy leaves home, trouble befalls him, boy fightsor danceshis way back home.) Its cipher-y hero also put me in mind of the flaneur, who wanders the world of a book in search of spiritual transformation.

91qKK5sdUFL. AC UF10001000 QL80

Olivia Laing, The Lonely City 

For another genre-queer meditation on great American cities, and the saving graces of art, look no further than excellent amble.


552 Tom Pecinka and Sarah Pidgeon in STEREOPHONIC Photo by Julieta Cervantes Tom Pecinka and Sarah Pidgeon in Stereophonic. (Julieta Cervantes)

Stereophonic, David Adjmi

Adjmi’s opus follows a 70s rock band as they struggle through all kinds of interpersonal drama to make a masterpiece. My personal favorite contribution to the whole, rangy canon of rock n’ roll texts is an autobiography from a recurring fly on a similar studio’s wall.

71t5VW5q L. AC UF10001000 QL80

Pamela Des Barres, I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie

Written by the woman who inspired Penny Lane in Almost Famous, this memoir is, on the one hand, just an outrageous good time. But there’s tenderness under the sweat. In lush, earnest prose, Des Barres captures what it really feels like to be a fan.

71Y8n5Q9UOL. AC UF10001000 QL80

Dawnie Walton, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

And on the fiction tip, the rock stars in this historical collage novel are as lovingly imagined as Adjmi’s unnamed underdogs.


01. The Outsiders The Greasers Photo by Matthew Murphy Jason Schmidt, Renni Anthony Magee, Daryl Tofa, Tilly Evans-Krueger, Sky Lakota-Lynch, Joshua Boone, Brent Comer, and Brody Grant. (Matthew Murphy)

The Outsiders, Jonathan Clay, Zach Chance, and the Jamestown Revival

If you love The Outsiders musical, you might love, um, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. But for fear of being on the nose, I’ll recommend another vibrant coming-of-age novel instead.

we the animals

Justin Torres, We The Animals

We’ve lauded this one before on the site, so suffice it to say: please go get this book, if you haven’t already. It’s a truly luminous look at childhood with a “poetic soul.”

If you dig that, you might also enjoy Tommy Orange’s juggernaut debut, There, There. For its sweeping epic-ness, and the humane attention paid to young boys in class conflict.


2 Shaina Taub as Alice Paul Shaina Taub in Suffs. (Joan Marcus)

Suffs, Shaina Taub 

This eager new musical about the long road to passing the 19th amendment sparkles with history lessons. Alice Paul, Mary Church Terrell, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett are all starring cast-members.


Vanguard, Martha S. Jones

If the beautiful songs leave you hungry for a deeper dive, consider this sharp, elegantly structured account of Black women in the suffrage movement.

And for more inspiring tales of femme organizing in the face of oppression, pick up Saidiya Hartman’s beautifully woven history, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments.


6 The cast of WATER FOR ELEPHANTS Photo by Matthew Murphy The cast of Water for Elephants. (Matthew Murphy)

Water for Elephants, PigPen Theatre Company and Rick Elice

Here’s another case with obvious inspo, given that the Water for Elephants musical is adapted from Sara Gruen’s best-selling novel. But if you’ve already inhaled that book, you might consider some other show-biz tales.

61ESzjMUQL. AC UF10001000 QL80

Angela Carter, Wise Children

This fizzy vaudeville saga following two sister-performers is a bright, bracing, totally singular contribution to the family circus narrative.

On the slightly more unsettling end of the spectrum, there’s a classic circus novelKatherine Dunn’s Geek Love. And for rangier, character-driven fare, look to László Krasznahorkai’s The Melancholy of Resistance.


7 CABARET Gayle Rankin top as Sally Bowles and Eddie Redmayne center below as the Emcee and the Kit Kat Girls in CABARET at the Kit Kat Club at the August Wilson Theatre. Photo by Marc Brenner Gayle Rankin, Eddie Redmayne, and company of Cabaret. (Marc Brenner)

Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club, John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Joe Masteroff

61ZpkWVHuEL. AC UF10001000 QL80

Irmgard Keun, The Artificial Silk Girl

If you’re rooting for Cabaret this Sunday, you may not particularly enjoy sit-ting /a-lone in-your-room. But if the club ever fails to sate, I recommend staying in with this shimmery novel. As ominous as it is engaging, this diaristic book sees pre-war Berlin through the eyes of Doris, a good-time girl who has a lot in common with Sally Bowles.

And speaking of the toast of Mayfair? You can find the original Sally in Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories. 


Victoria Pedretti Caleb Eberhardt Jeremy Strong in An Enemy of the People Photo by Emilio Madrid Victoria Pedretti, Caleb Eberhardt, and Jeremy Strong in An Enemy of the People. (Emilio Madrid)

An Enemy of the People, Henrik Ibsen

Ibsen’s play about a small town facing ecological disaster is a true talkie. People argue and rationalize. They wrestle toward action. If this kind of polyphony appeals to you, why not pick up another high-stakes conversation?

716zjeqdA8L. AC UF10001000 QL80

Miriam Toews, Women Talking 

This thrilling, anxious-making novel, told in the minutes of an emergency meeting, portrays a community of Mennonite women debating whether or not to leave their homes after suffering horrific abuse. It’s taut and sharp, but also readable. And yes, it is the second Toews title on this list.

For a more direct analog to the play’s environmental themes, look to non-fiction. Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement is a favorite for muscular, philosophical wrestling with what it means to face climate catastrophe.

This list of compelling climate fiction is also a great trampoline.

Meet you under the marquee!

Images via

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top