“What classics would you place together on a shelf to represent the course of your life?”
A new hardcover series encourages readers to answer that question. Penguin Vitae, loosely translated as “penguin of one’s life,” is a collection of Penguin Classics featuring gorgeous new covers and introductions by contemporary writers. The series’ purpose is to help readers “curate their own personal Penguin Classics canon…and to discover other seminal works of timeless inspiration, intellectual engagement and creative originality” from diverse storytellers.
The series’ first five books were released in February and include works by Audre Lorde, Reinaldo Arenas, Nella Larsen, Kate Chopin and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Here are the publisher’s descriptions of each book alongside the stunning covers designed by Paul Buckley:
Foreword by: Mahogany L. Browne, slam poet, activist and author of Black Girl Magic
Written by one of the most influential voices in 20th-century literature, Sister Outsider is the essential writings of black lesbian poet and feminist writer, Audre Lorde. In this collection of essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, homophobia and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is unflinching and lyrical, reflecting struggle but ultimately offering messages of hope.
Foreward by: Jaime Manrique, Colombian-born novelist, poet, essayist and translator
Before Night Falls is the acclaimed memoir of the tumultuous yet luminary life of gay Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, from his impoverished upbringing in Cuba to his imprisonment at the hands of a Communist regime. Recorded in simple, straightforward prose, Before Night Falls is the true story of the Kafkaesque life and world recreated in the author’s acclaimed novels.
Introduction by: Emily Bernard, professor and author of Remember Me to Harlem
Nella Larsen’s Passing is a tragic novel focused on the fluidity of racial identity, as told by a light-skinned black woman married to a racist white man, having chosen to “pass” as a white woman. Powerful and poignant, this 1929 novel feels just as timely as ever today.
Introduction by: Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Battleborn and Gold Farm Citrus
Never fully appreciated upon its publication due to charges of sordidness and immorality, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening is the groundbreaking depiction of a married woman who dares to defy the expectations of society in the pursuit of her desire.
Introduction by: Kate Bolick, bestselling author of Spinster and contributing editor for The Atlantic
Perhaps best known for her chilling depiction of a woman’s mental breakdown in The Yellow Wall-Paper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman also wrote Herland, a wry novel that imagines a peaceful, progressive country devoid of men. Both are included in The Yellow Wall-Paper and Selected Writings, along with a selection of Gilman’s major short stories and poems.
To celebrate the new series, we’ve partnered with Penguin for a giveaway! One winner will receive a complete set of the first five books (pictured above). To enter the giveaway, follow @PasteBooks on Twitter and retweet this tweet by 5 p.m. EST on Monday, March 16th. You must have a U.S. address to enter.
Penguin will publish the next five titles in the series this fall, including: The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois with an introduction by Ibram X. Kendi; Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass with an introduction by Ira Dworkin; Not Without Laughter by Langston Huges with an introduction by Angela Flournoy; We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson with an introduction by Jonathan Lethem; and The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton with a forward by Elif Batuman
You can learn more about the Penguin Vitae series here.