With people stuck indoors, publishing was one of the industries to get a weird 2020 boost. There’s still a long road (and winter) ahead until vaccines are fully distributed, so perhaps our literary devotion will keep pace. But beyond the year’s most anticipated blockbusters—including new novels by Jhumpa Lahiri and Jonathan Franzen—our local presses have a full holster of releases you won’t want to miss. Here are a few to bookmark.

Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original

Edited by Sara B. Franklin | UNC Press; Feb. 2021

Originally published in 2018 and reissued this February in paperback form, this celebration of the legendary Edna Lewis deserves all the attention it can get. Lewis, a trailblazing activist and chef and the author of A Taste of Country Cooking, championed Black Southern cooking and the farm-to-table movement until her death in 2006. This elegant collection includes essays from Kim Severson, John T. Edge, Alice Waters, and numerous others. —Sarah Edwards

Millennials Killed the Video Star: MTV’s Transition to Reality Programming  

By Amanda Ann Klein | Duke University Press; Feb. 2021

My mother used to tell me that Jersey Shore would rot my brain; with Millennials Killed the Video Star, Amanda Ann Klein would seem to agree. In this release, the East Carolina University film professor helps make sense of the noise, walking readers through MTV’s evolution from music videos to scripted reality TV—maximizing stereotypes about race, gender, and class along the way, and shaping how an entire generation would come to understand identity. —Emma Kenfield

Spinning the Vast Fantastic

By Britton Shurley | Bull City Press; Feb. 2021

The past year was flooded with “big things,” causing many of us to forget life’s simple joys. This pocket-sized collection by the Kentucky poet Britton Shurley calls for a revival of wonder, reminding its readers of the beauty of small things and the natural world. Spinning the Vast Fantastic, out via Durham’s Bull City Press, is a poetic remedy for uncertain times. —EK

Right Here, Right Now: Life Stories from America’s Death Row

Edited by Lynden Harris | Duke Press; Apr. 2021

This powerful collection contains true stories from the dozens of men living on death row across the country. Some remembrances stretch back to childhood experiences of poverty and police misconduct, while other accounts pertain to life  inside the carceral system, as the writers fight to hold on to their connections to the outside world. The events of 2020 underscored systematic inequality and the injustices of the justice system; here, these firsthand accounts form a moving, personal call to action. —SE

To Drink from the Well: The Struggle for Racial Equality at the Nation’s Oldest Public University

By Geeta Kapur | Blair Publishing; May 2021

UNC-Chapel Hill has had a banner year for scandals, though the ones of the past months only scratch the surface of the oldest public university’s deep ties to white supremacy and institutional racism. In this must-read from Geeta Kapur, a civil rights activist and criminal defense lawyer (notably, she also represented the NAACP’s Moral Mondays protests pro bono), unpacks the “uncomfortable truths” behind many of the university’s storied sights. Think of it as a campus tour, except honest. —SE

Follow Deputy Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards on Twitter or send an email to sedwards@indyweek.com

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.