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Books for Your Winter Reading List

New works by Northwestern alumni challenge history, celebrate activists and uplift mundane, everyday moments.

By Diana Babineau
Winter 2022

Reclamation: Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson and a Descendant’s Search for Her Family’s Lasting Legacy


When she was just 13 years old, Gayle Jessup White learned she was a descendant of Thomas Jefferson. That family lore, passed down from her eldest sister, sent Jessup White ’82 MS on a quest for truth. During the course of 40 years, she conducted research and pursued DNA evidence that ultimately confirmed her legacy and uncovered an even broader family tree, a journey she recounts in Reclamation.

A journalism alum who formerly worked at The New York Times, Jessup White is now the public relations and community engagement officer at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s legendary estate. “Because Black people were considered property, documentation about many of our ancestors is hard to find, if it exists at all. So much was lost,” says Jessup White. “My hope is that people will see their own family’s struggles and successes in my family, that they will be inspired by their dignity and strength, and that they will seek their own truths.”


Castaway Mountain: Love and Loss Among the Wastepickers of Mumbai


Set in the infamous Deonar dumping grounds of Mumbai, India, Castaway Mountain chronicles the lives of wastepickers who live at the edges of mountains of garbage, some roughly 20 stories high. Based on the real experiences of Mumbaikars who survive by reusing or reselling whatever they can find, this narrative nonfiction book by journalist Saumya Roy ’02 MS tells a tale of love, family and community while exposing the poverty and health problems that result from urban overconsumption.


My Begging Chart


In this autobiographical comic book, Keiler Roberts ’02 MFA offers snippets of daily musings and mundanity from her family life in a minimalist art style, often with humor as dry as the grilled cheese sandwich crusts her daughter refuses to eat. While Roberts’ multiple sclerosis diagnosis lingers in the background, her struggles to accurately measure out cinnamon for a recipe or avoid accidentally sitting on her daughter’s imaginary friend make for a heartwarming, relatable and chuckle-inducing read.


Dennis Brutus: Poet and Political Activist


Journalist Craig Ellenport ’87 opens his book with a personal anecdote from Northwestern: He recalls taking an African literature course taught by South African activist Dennis Brutus at the height of the anti-apartheid movement. When students began protesting in 1985, Brutus, who had occupied a jail cell next to Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, canceled class that day and joined them. Ellenport’s middle-grade book details the life of the poet and activist who fought to end apartheid. 


Green Horses on the Walls


A Romanian American poet, Rhodes Scholar, historian and playwright, Cristina A. Bejan ’04 explores inherited trauma, crimes of communism and more in her first book of poetry. In the title poem, Bejan recalls being told “You only want green horses on the walls,” a Romanian expression for “having delusions.” It is, however, a starting point for her self-understanding: “From the start I was told my dreams / Weren’t possible / That I was crazy ... / [But] I know my need to write exists / I know that the open page is the reservoir for my joy and pain.”

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