Arts & Culture

A New Club for Book Lovers

With the Open Canon Book Club, the North Carolina author Wiley Cash seeks to bring underrepresented authors to the fore

Photo: Mallory Cash

Author Wiley Cash.

As a best-selling author, North Carolina’s Wiley Cash (This Dark Road to Mercy, A Land More Kind Than Home, The Last Ballad) knows the power of getting his novels in the hands of literature-loving book clubs. But for his newest project, the Open Canon Book Club, Cash wants to highlight the work of other authors in an effort to broaden people’s worldview through literature. “I feel like we’re in a time when we need to hear underrepresented voices, people who don’t look like us or talk like us,” Cash says. “What I’m really interested in is getting books in front of book clubs they might not otherwise have.”

Membership is free and open to all. You’ll get discussion questions for each month’s book, a list of related titles, and dates for live online conversations hosted by Cash and the guest authors. Local independent bookstores across the country will also give discounts for the selected book.

First up in September: Crystal Wilkinson’s The Birds of Opulence, the story of several generations of African-American women in a Kentucky township. Although Cash had never met Wilkinson, he had long admired her work and thought it was just the kind of book he would want to share with readers. “I want to open up a literary experience for people to say, ‘This is something I’ve never encountered before,’” Cash says.

Cash had his own kind of literary “aha” moment as a sophomore creative writing major at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. He read the story collection Bloodline by the writer Ernest J. Gaines, and though the two authors came from very different backgrounds (Cash grew up in an old mill town in North Carolina; Gaines on a plantation in Louisiana, where his ancestors had been slaves), Cash recognized elements of his own family in the characters Gaines drew out. The book changed his life. Cash went on to study with Gaines at the University of Louisiana–Lafayette, and the two formed a lasting bond.

Cash has mapped out selections for the Open Canon Book Club for the next year or so. In addition to showcasing talented, diverse voices, he wanted to choose authors who would enjoy engaging with club members. “At the very least,” he says, “this is going to be a way to steer people to good books—and that’s what we want.”