About the Penguin Vitae series

I’m enjoying reading a few of the new titles in the deluxe Penguin Vitae series that was released in early 2020 (belatedly making its way to Oz).

The series title ‘Penguin Vitae‘ loosely translates to “Penguin of one’s life” (which is gorgeous imagery by the way, and I really want to have the ‘penguin of my life’ as a personal companion now). Its conception was apparently sparked by the question “What classic books would you place together on a shelf to represent the course of your life”.

stack of penguins 2020
A stack of different penguin series editions.
penguin vitae arenas before the night falls eps sm
penguin vitae arenas before the night falls cover closeup sm
Closeups of Before Night Falls
penguin vitae arenas before the night falls int sm

Penguin’s answer to this question includes “a diverse world of storytellers from the past” that speak to us “at pivotal chapters of our lives and connects a community of readers across time and space” [quotes from the Penguin Classics Instagram account]. Which is just a fancy way of saying that apparently this is the first time that the Penguin Classics ‘brand’ has released a series that specifically features writing on race, gender and LGBTQ issues – and the fact that Penguin and others are working hard to diversify the understanding of what makes a ‘classic’ novel and make it more inclusive is excellent progress.

penguin vitae covers IG

Penguin Vitae Design Features

This is another series designed by talented Penguin creative director Paul Buckley, and these hardbacks have a number of lovely features, including metallic foil stamped on the covers and spines, along with delightful illustrated endpapers. As part of the Penguin Classics brand, the volumes also have valuable introductions and or/notes to assist with getting the most out of your reading. For shelf size reference, the books are slightly larger than the standard black spine or Sisterhood Collection paperback classics and just marginally smaller than the Penguin Classics Deluxe and Penguin Galaxy editions. Pages are acid-free, but the binding is (sigh) glued.

penguin vitae lorde sister outsider endpapers IG
penguin vitae gilman yellow wall paper endpapers IG
Pretty images from Penguin’s Instagram
penguin vitae larsen passing endpapers IG

The first five titles represent a diverse selection of contemporary writers, and I have also listed anticipated future releases below for 2021, some of which can already be pre-ordered. The series includes fiction, non-fiction and poetry and there will likely be some interesting titles here that you don’t already have in a nice edition if you’re looking to expand your library in this direction.

List of books

2020 releases

penguin vitae gilman yellow wallpaper

The Yellow Wall-Paper and selected writings by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, introduction by Kate Bolick.
ISBN 9780143134794, Feb 2020

A collection of the groundbreaking feminist writer’s most famous works.

→ Buy from Amazon | Book Depository

“But I MUST say what I feel and think in some way — it is such a relief! But the effort is getting to be greater than the relief.”

― Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wall-Paper

penguin vitae lorde sister outsider

Sister Outsider Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde.
ISBN 9780143134442, Feb 2020

The essential writings of an influential black lesbian poet and feminist voice in twentieth-century literature.

→ Buy from Amazon | Book Depository

“Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.”

— Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider

penguin vitae chopin awakening

The Awakening and selected stories by Kate Chopin, introduction by Claire Vaye Watkins.
ISBN 9780143134800, Feb 2020

A groundbreaking depiction of a woman who dares to defy the expectations of society in the pursuit of her desire.

→ Buy from Amazon | Book Depository

“Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world.”

— Kate Chopin, The Awakening

penguin vitae arenas before the night falls

Before Night Falls: A Memoir by Reinaldo Arenas, translated by Dolores M. Koch, foreword by Jaime Manrique
ISBN 9780143134848, Feb 2020

The acclaimed memoir of homosexual Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas chronicling his life from his impoverished upbringing in Cuba to his imprisonment at the hands of a Communist regime. 

→ Buy from Amazon | Book Depository

The difference between the Communist system and the capitalist system is that when they give you a kick in the ass, in the Communist system you have to applaud, in the capitalist system, you can scream.

— Reinaldo Arena, Before Night Falls

penguin vitae larsen passing

Passing by Nella Larsen, introduction by Emily Bernard, notes by Thadious M. Davis.
ISBN 9780143129424, Feb 2020

A  powerful, thrilling, and tragic tale about the fluidity of racial identity that continues to resonate today.

→ Buy from Amazon | Book Depository

“The trouble with Clare was, not only that she wanted to have her cake and eat it too, but that she wanted to nibble at the cakes of other folk as well.”

― Nella Larsen, Passing

penguin vitae boxed set

Penguin Vitae Series 5-book Box Set
ISBN 9781524705800, Feb 2020

A boxed collection of the first five books in the series.

→ Buy from Amazon | Book Depository

Upcoming releases

penguin vitae hughes not without laughter

Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes, introduction by Angela Flournoy.
ISBN 9780143134428, Nov 2020/Feb 2021

The great African American poet’s award-winning first novel about a black boy’s coming-of-age in a largely white Kansas town.

→ Buy from Amazon | Book Depository

penguin vitae frederick douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass, edited and introduction by Ira Dworkin.
ISBN 9780143134411, Nov 2020/Feb 2021

An updated edition of a classic African American autobiography, with new supplementary materials.

→ Buy from Amazon | Book Depository

penguin vitae jackson always lived in the castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, afterword by Jonathan Lethem.
ISBN 9780143134831, Nov 2020/Feb 2021

A beloved gothic tale of a peculiar girl named Merricat and her family’s dark secret.

→ Buy from Amazon | Book Depository

penguin vitae de bois souls of black folk

The Souls of Black Folk, with ‘The Talented Tenth’ and ‘The Souls of White Folk’ by W. E. Du Bois, introduction by Ibram X. Kendi and notes by Monica E. Elbert.
ISBN 9780143134435, Nov 2020/Feb 2021

A landmark book about being black in America.

→ Buy from Amazon | Book Depository

penguin vitae wharton age of innocence

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, foreword by Elif Batuman, introduction by Sarah Blackwood, notes by Laura Dluzynski Quinn.
ISBN 9780143134817, Nov 2020/Feb 2021

An acclaimed novel of love, duty, and half-known truths in Gilded Age New York society.

→ Buy from Amazon | Book Depository

penguin vitae welch winter in the blood

Winter in the Blood by James Welch, foreword by Joy Harijo, introduction by Louise Erdrich.
ISBN 9780143136194, Feb 2021

A contemporary classic from a major writer of the Native American renaissance.

→ Buy from Amazon | Book Depository

penguin vitae kang east goes west

East Goes West by Younghill Kang, Foreword by Alexander Chee, afterword and notes by Sunyoung Lee.
ISBN 9780143136286, Feb 2021

Evocation of a newcomer’s America by the father of Korean American literature.

→ Buy from Amazon | Book Depository

penguin vitae alcott little women

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Foreword by Patti Smith, introduction by Anne Boyd Rioux.
ISBN 9780143136200, Feb 2021

The beloved portrait of a nineteenth-century New England family in wartime.

→ Buy from Amazon | Book Depository

penguin vitae naylor women of brewster place

The Women of Brewster Place: A Novel in Seven Stories by Gloria Naylor, Foreword by Tayari Jones.
ISBN 9780143136163, May 2021

A contemporary classic that deftly portrays many of the realities of black life.

→ Buy from Amazon | Book Depository


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