Rochester Reads 2019: Dear Reader

Dear Reader,

Writers & Books is Rochester’s nationally renowned non-profit literary center located at 740 University Avenue, in the heart of Rochester’s Neighborhood of the Arts. In 2001, Writers & Books initiated the “If All of Rochester Read the Same Book…” program (called “Rochester Reads” since 2015). The goal of the program throughout these years has been to encourage people to connect to others in our community through reading and discussion, and through the shared experience of literature. Each year Writers & Books selects one book for our community to explore together, leading to a residency by the author.

Our choice for 2019, the nineteenth year of the program, is the 2017 novel American War by Omar El Akkad. American War is a captivating novel about a second US Civil War in the late 21st century. After climate change leads to war and a decimation of the population, a plague is unleashed that further devastates the country. The effects of this fractured country on one young girl has consequences for generations.

We estimate that well over 185,000 Rochester-area readers have participated in our eighteen previous programs, which featured A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines (2001), The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks (2002), Kindred by Octavia Butler (2003), Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (2004), Servants of the Map by Andrea Barrett (2005), Name All the Animals by Alison Smith (2006), The Buffalo Soldier by Chris Bohjalian (2007), Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami (2008), Jim the Boy by Tony Earley (2009), Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (2010), The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti (2011), The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean (2012), Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea (2013), The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (2014), The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (2015), Queen of the Fall: A Memoir of Girls and Goddesses by Sonja Livingston (2016), The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld (2017), and The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande (2018).

During an extended residency March 26–30, author Omar El Akkad will make a number of appearances at libraries, schools, colleges, universities, and other venues in the Rochester area to read and discuss his work and sign books. For six weeks before his arrival, readers around the region will be joining discussions about American War and the issues it raises as well as attending video screenings, readings, panel presentations, lectures, and other special events.

This Reader’s Guide offers insight into the writing of this riveting novel as well as discussion questions for book discussions and other valuable resources for readers to get the most of out of exploring this book in community. For a complete calendar of events, see the listings in this Reader’s Guide, visit our web site at, email me at, or call us at (585) 473–2590, x107. We invite you to join the conversation.

Karen vanMeenen

Coordinator of Community Reading Programs

Writers & Books