Custom Places in Paper

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a white wall with a black frame hanging on it

From the beginning, my favorite part of crafting Paper Places is the potential for customization. I started by finding map data for the towns around where I live and creating Paper Places for those areas. It is delightful to share my work at a local art market event and have conversations with folks about which towns look interesting, which ones have boring shapes, and what color would look best for a map of Boston in a living room/bathroom/kitchen/bedroom/office.

The other most common conversation I had in that situation was “Do you have [insert random place here]?” So I decided to create custom maps of any place you can dream up. That decision has led me (via map data) around the country to California, Virginia, Arizona, Texas, Oregon, Alaska, and more. I’ve even created a few Paper Places of spots around Europe!

I’ve learned so much about different areas of the U.S.:

Tucson and LA

I discovered that Tucson, Arizona has a really wild municipal boundary, but I can’t really tell why. I learned that Los Angeles bears a striking resemblance to Pikachu (the tail is an interstate corridor that connects the city to the harbor).

Framed rectangular map of Los Angeles, CA with a gray background and Tucson, AZ with a green background. Black frames hang on a dark gray wall with dramatic lighting from the side.

The Commonwealth of Virginia

To create the custom order below, I became well-acquainted with the coastal islands and rivers of Virginia. I can design Paper Places for states, countries, parks, lakes, etc. – anything with a discrete boundary! I also had fun adding a custom Place Marker to this map of Cape Cod for the same client:

Gray ladder shelf with plants and two framed Paper Places: Virginia with a gray background, and Cape Cod with a yellow background

Heading West and South

The more Paper Places I’ve created further away from New England, the more I realized that I’m lucky I started with little towns like Arlington, MA and Somerville, MA. As you head west and south of New England everything get bigger! The municipal boundaries get pretty intimidating to represent at the scale of an 8×8 or 8×10 piece of paper! I created these gorgeous gray and white custom Paper Places for a client who lives in Fort Worth, TX and grew up in Florence, AL. I carefully simplified the map data for each one to make something that could actually be cut out of paper.

Custom framed paper art map of Florence, AL with a light gray background on a white mantle near a small potted plant
Custom Paper Place showing the city of Fort Worth, TX with a light gray background hanging on a white wall with distressed wood surface below and to the left

As I design and cut out each map I find myself wondering who was responsible for all of the little zigs and zags in the boundaries. I wonder when those decisions were made, by who, and what their reasoning was! Sometimes I find myself getting lost clicking around Google Maps. I want to try to understand why that particular park or neighborhood was excluded, even though I’ll likely never visit that spot.

Maybe I missed my calling as a city planner? I don’t actually think so, but I do wonder what they were thinking sometimes!

How to order a custom Paper Place

Once you have a place in mind, all you need to do is fill out this easy customization form and place your order! You’ll hear from me in 1-2 business days to finalize any details and review the custom mockup illustration with you. Here are some examples of different mockups:

A collection of digital mockups of custom paper places, including Madison, NJ, Provincetown, MA, Seattle, WA, Isle of Palms, NC, Menlo Park, CA and Paris, France

This is a digital illustration that shows roughly what the finished product will look like. The colors and shadows aren’t true to life. They’re meant to give a general impression so you can decide if you like the design.

I created this map of Hamburg, Germany with specific attention to the rivers across the city, and the lake in the middle of the city. We finalized the design via the mockup on the left, and this is how the finished product turned out!

9 Unique House Portrait Artists

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Watercolor paintings and laser cut wood ornaments by East Grove Company

When I started crafting houses out of paper, I had no idea that House Portraits were a THING. My family certainly never thought of commissioning one for the house I grew up in. I don’t think any of my grandparents had artwork of their various houses, either. I stumbled on creating house portraits sort of accidentally, and then realized that artists have been photographing, painting, sculpting, and otherwise replicating the places people live for a long time!

I’ve since learned that it’s pretty easy to get a painting or drawing of your house on paper. There are house portrait artists who will paint or draw your house in all sorts of different styles. You can even pay someone to run a filter that turns a photo of your house into a “painting”! Not all house portraits exist as images on paper, though. It seemed appropriate to create a roundup of other house portrait artists that are pushing the boundaries in material or format. Partly because I’m fascinated by the possibilities, and partly because I know my style isn’t always the best fit. I can only create a certain number of portraits each year, and that number isn’t large, so I also wanted to offer some options!

Mid-Century Modern Facades by Robert Webster

@mid_mod_facade & midmodfacade.com

A preview of the @mid_mod_facade Instagram feed

Robert uses thick mat board to create delightful “mid-mod” houses in a very specific style. The way he simplifies and emphasizes the midcentury-modern geometry is really lovely. His work is always meticulous. He has original work for sale and also accepts commissions for either home facades or full 3D house models. Robert’s style is especially well-suited to the long, low house profiles that don’t always work well in my style.

Watercolor & Wood by Sydney Musselman of East Grove Company

@eastgrovecompany & eastgrovestampco.com

A preview of the @eastgrovecompany Instagram feed

I first encountered East Grove Company when they were creating custom rubber stamps, but these wooden ornaments are a delightful addition! Sydney’s multi-media focus means you can commission a custom watercolor painting of your home and also have the painting turned into a wooden ornament and a return address rubber stamp, all in one go. That’s pretty awesome.

Antique Paper Portraits by Helen Ward

@paper_house.of.wards

A preview of the @paper_house.of.wards Instagram feed

I originally came across Helen Ward’s work in the context of interior design (like a just-finished kitchen reno that turned out amazing). I was captivated by the various projects she’s undertaken in renovating the old house she lives in in the U.K. Somewhere along the way I discovered that she is also a house portrait artist?! The houses are an evolution of her antique marbled paper entomology work. Some of that antique paper stash makes its way into lovely, intricate, full-color paper house portraits. Though she also uses fun unexpected materials like sandpaper to imitate gravel driveways! Helen’s focus on texture and color, and use of creative materials, make her pieces really unique.

Colorful Clay House Portraits by Lindsay Black of Oddly & Co.

@oddlyandcompany & oddlyandcompany.com

A preview of the @oddlyandcompany Instagram feed

Fun fact: my very first self-employment adventure involved making (ugly) jewelry out of polymer clay and trying to sell it at my local farmer’s market when I was 13. Lindsay does things with polymer clay that 13-year-old me would not have been able to fathom. Polymer clay is a colored oven-bake clay that you can find at most crafty shops. It takes years of practice and a steady hand to be able to create these crazy-intricate houses with the stuff. The finished sculpture is essentially plastic, so it is unlikely to fade and a little (lot) sturdier than paper! Lindsay also creates adorable family portrait ornaments and can create your house portrait as an ornament, or attach it to a plate or other background if you want to hang it on the wall. So cool.

Painted Wooden Houses by Ana Marko

@anamarko_houses & anamarko.com

A preview of the @anamarko_houses Instagram feed

Ana Marko makes all sorts of lovely painted wooden things in her studio in Poland, but her custom house portraits are truly amazing. This is a detailed, photo-realistic painting of your house, but it’s also in the shape of your house! I love the playfulness of these pieces. I am also very impressed by the level of detail.

3D Paper House Lanterns by Emi Hazlett of Paper Emi

@paper.emi & paperemi.com

A preview of the @paper.emi Instagram feed

Emi Hazlett creates paper architecture as luminaries (battery-powered candles only!). The interior light makes the buildings feel alive. After focusing on window displays, advertisements, and other gorgeous paper art (I highly recommend a scroll through her Instagram feed), Emi has recently added custom pieces to her offerings, both 3D luminaries and framed portraits.

Embroidered House Portraits by Jessica Barta of Jess Stitched It

@jessstitchedit & JessStitchedIt on Etsy

A preview of the @jessstitchedit Instagram feed

Unfortunately, it looks like Jessica isn’t taking orders as of this writing, but LOOK at this! Embroidered paintings on fabric? How cool is that?! I’m so impressed by the unique combination of mediums. The gumption it takes to tackle the depiction of something as rectangular as residential architecture with materials as fluid and squishy as paint and thread is impressive! I’ve loved following Jessica’s work on Instagram to see how she depicts the same tiny details that I struggle with, just with thread instead of paper. I’m looking at you front porch light fixtures.

DIY Embroidered House Portrait with a book by Theresa M. Lawson

@the_monsters_lounge & Purchase Hand-Stitched House book

A preview of the @the_monsters_lounge Instagram feed

I’m not sure if Theresa is accepting new commissions at this time, so I thought I’d mention her book! This is a slightly different style of embroidered house portrait than Jessica’s, above. Theresa’s work is created entirely with thread, and Jessica’s incorporates painted fabric. I’ve just picked up embroidery as a hobby in the last few months. As a beginner who is still working out the basics (is it okay if all my stitches are different lengths?!) the things Theresa can accomplish with a needle and thread are definitely “goals”, as the kids say. Maybe after I figure out the basics I’ll buy the book and learn how it’s done!

Custom 3D Paper House Portraits by Abigail McMurray of yeiou paper objects

@yeioupaperobjects & yeiou.com

House Portrait Artist Abigail McMurray's Instagram feed
A preview of the @yeioupaperobjects Instagram feed

May I be so bold as to include myself in this list? I love building tiny houses out of paper. I love figuring out how to turn a photograph into a framed paper sculpture. I’ve been refining my process since 2018, gradually adding more and more and smaller details, learning new techniques and processes, and crafting over 100 portraits of houses all around the world.

Shipping Updates & Holiday 2021 Ordering

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branches of green fir tree

It’s that time of year again! One of the rhythms and routines of small handmade business life is deciding every year how to attempt to carve order out of the chaos that is the end of the year. Just being a human in November and December is difficult, balancing weird schedules from holidays and school breaks and family obligations and changing weather patterns! Trying to balance “human-ing” and “business-ing” as a single person business has always been a challenge, but it turns out that looking ahead and making a plan makes a huge difference in everyone’s experience!

It turns out that this year that looking ahead and planning makes an even bigger difference, as the world braces for a massive increase in shipping during a time of staffing shortages, and we’re not really sure how long it will take things to get places.

With all of the above in mind, here’s my plan. It may change! You won’t regret shopping early and being prepared.

  • 3D House Portrait Applications Open: Saturday, October 23 – Tuesday, October 27, 2021
     
  • Paper Places Price Increase: Monday, November 1, 2021
     
  • Last day to order Custom Paper Places or House Portrait Silhouettes: Wednesday, December 1, 2021
     
  • Recommended last day to order for Christmas delivery: Wednesday, December 15, 2021
     
  • Online shop closes for winter break: December 22, 2021
     
  • Online shop reopens: February 1, 2022

Make a Mark (on a map) – New Custom Map Markers on Paper Places

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Hand holding a place marker in front of a custom Paper Place framed map art

A friend commissioned some custom maps for family members around the holidays last year. He also asked if I could add some sort of indicator of where the family members homes were in each town. This was something I had thought of a few times over the years, but never actually sat down to figure out. This time, I figured it out!

A few months ago, I added the option to include a place marker when you order any Paper Place, or custom Paper Place, from my website. Etsy doesn’t make it easy to add this sort of customization, so this feature is only available here at yeiou.com right now.

Add a Map Marker

Screenshot of website interface to choose Place Marker Style and address.

In order to add a marker to your map, first choose the map you’d like to customize! Once you’re on the product page, scroll down to the “Place Marker Style” option and choose the design you’d like for your marker. Indicate the address of the location you’d like to mark, add the map to your cart, and you’re good to go!

Framed map of Medford, MA with a heart-shaped place marker indicating the location of the customer's home.
Framed map of Medford, MA

This map of Medford, MA was the first map ordered with the new options, and such a great color choice!

Featured on “Making It” Season 3!

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the word making it spelled out in colorful letters
A still from the "Making It" title sequence showing various handmade objects and plants decorating the inside of the barn, where the show is filmed and the words "Executive Producer Nick Offerman"

I wanted to share some exciting news: my work is being featured on this season’s set of NBC’s “Making It” with Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman!

Airing nationally on Thursday evenings at 8pm Eastern (or streaming on Hulu), the show is a light-hearted, feel-good competition series featuring makers, artists, and designers from across the country. Now in its third season, executive producers Poehler and Offerman designed the show to celebrate the creativity and craftiness in all of us.

I was honored to create three custom pieces for the NBC set. When I sent them off for filming I had no idea where or whether they would make an appearance in the show. It’s been fun to spot them each time they’re shown on an episode!

The house with the orange background is one of my sample house portraits that I was able to rent to the production since I wasn’t doing any in-person events in the fall of 2020 thanks to a certain pandemic situation. But the most exciting pieces are the two others that I created specifically for the show:

The “Making It” Barn

Framed paper art depicting the "Making It" barn in navy and white.

This House Portrait Silhouette version of the Making It barn was a fun make! As I was gluing all those little bits together I imagined how it must feel to actually be standing inside the barn for the show. Maybe some day that will be me! I love the addition of the barn quilt this season, and I’m tempted to make an updated version that includes it!

Still from the "Making It" intro sequence showing the exterior of the barn on a sunny day
The barn, as seen in the show’s title sequence
Still from the "Making It" title sequence showing a pop-up book version of the barn surrounded by trees
A paper pop-up book version of the barn, as seen in the show’s title sequence (I love this SO MUCH as you might imagine)

The Cottage

Framed paper art depicting the "Making It" cottage in dark green and white paper

This House Portrait Silhouette version of the cottage was also a fun challenge. Those light fixtures are actually 3D! The dormer windows on the second floor are gorgeous, with the arch to let in even more light. The show doesn’t really use the inside of this space as far as I can tell, but the various hilarious exchanges that Amy and Nick have on the porch are what make “Making It” such a delight. Though it’s sad to say goodbye to whoever leaves at the end of each episode, I love seeing the different “farming” “jobs” they get to act out, often on the cottage porch or nearby, at the the very end of the episode.

Still from the show's intro sequence showing an aerial view of the cottage and the tree out front
The cottage, as seen in the show’s title sequence
Still frame from the show's title sequence depicting a paper pop-up version of the cottage
A paper pop-up book version of the cottage,
as seen in the show’s title sequence

Introducing: House Portrait Silhouettes!

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Framed house portrait silhouette depicting a three-story duplex home with the label "Arlington, MA" underneath, white and teal artwork in a black frame

I’ve been working behind the scenes for the last year or so to develop a new style of house portrait. Introducing, the House Portrait Silhouette! I’m doing this for a few reasons:

  • Sometimes simplicity is the best way forward! My 3D House Portraits have only gotten more complex as I’ve fine-tuned my ability to make tinier and tinier details out of paper.
  • Variety is the spice of life! Each 3D House Portrait takes hours and hours and hours and hours of work, and I find myself craving novelty (and burning out).
  • I feel bad about taking so long! I know there are folks who’ve been waiting for a chance to order a house portrait for a while, or who might purchase if the timing/pricing were less complicated. House Portrait Silhouettes will have a faster turnaround time, and will be available for purchase at your leisure. No need to set any alarms or rearrange your schedule.

I am still making 3D House Portraits! I’m catching up on my queue and fitting in a few projects for family this summer. I will reopen orders later in the summer / early fall of 2021. As always, the best way to stay informed of all house portrait details is to make sure you’re on my email list.

Framed custom house silhouette depicting a 2-story house with double garage, front porch, and sidelights around the front door

The Details

Your House Portrait Silhouette begins with a clear photograph of the home or building you’d like me to work with. I then carefully trace the outline of the structure. I draw in details like windows, doors, shutters, and other architectural elements that help describe the building. After you’ve reviewed the drawing and chosen a background color (there are 38 to choose from!) I will turn my drawing into files for my computerized cutting machine to cut. I use a computerized cutting machine so that everything is super accurate. My machine can cut straight lines, smooth curves, and beautiful details! With cut pieces in hand, I attach the detail pieces to the background, carefully lining things up to match the photograph, then frame it up and ship it to your door.

House Portrait Silhouettes are:

  • 11″ x 14″ and arrive framed and ready to display
  • Available in your choice of 38 background colors
  • One layer of paper in the foreground depicting the silhouette of your home, one layer of details glued to your background paper
  • Three rounds of design revisions
  • $264, including shipping within the U.S.

Simple and Modern

House Portrait Silhouettes are a beautiful, minimalist depiction of the essence of a house. Working from a photograph, I carefully trace the important details to make sure that all of the perspective lines are spot-on. This then allows me to create an image that subtly depicts implied architectural features like the bay window at the front of this Newbury Street house, or the deep front porch of the (above) gray background house with that gorgeous arched attic window.

Make your own Paper Place

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Packaged Make Your Own Paper Place kit on a desk

Have you ever noticed how places are always an important part of the story? Whether the story is a fairy tale, a fable, or what happened Tuesday afternoon, there’s always a setting. Over time, you collect places that are important to your story, whether that’s a home, a park, a school or campus, an office, a restaurant, a town, a state, a region, a country, or all of the above. My work is about celebrating places, and I love to do that by preserving memories of them with paper – something that is everywhere, and usually so ephemeral and fragile, but cut and sculpted and framed becomes an heirloom.

The video tutorial shows how to use my Make Your Own Map Shadowbox Kit (available for now exclusively through GarrettWade.com), which contains all of the supplies you need to, well, make your own map shadowbox! The kit includes:

  • Instruction booklet
  • Shadowbox Frame
  • Paper for the map cut-out as well as the background
  • Japanese Woodcarving Knife (for cutting the paper)

You will also need:

  • A prying tool or old credit card
  • A pencil or other drawing tool
  • Optional: collage materials like glue, additional paper colors or textures, photographs, memorabilia

The funny thing about remembering and celebrating places, is that they then become part of the story of the place you are now. If you’d like to share your paper places online, tag @yeioupaperobjects on Instagram, and use #yeioupaperplaces!

The story of yeiou paper places

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Three framed paper places on a wall near a potted plant

I started making Paper Places in the summer of 2019. I had already started making house portraits, and realized that I wasn’t going to be able to make enough of them to keep my business afloat. The idea came to me sort of abruptly and at the last minute. It was the night before a craft fair I was participating in nearby in Somerville, MA. I made a few maps of Somerville and some of the surrounding towns, working into the early morning hours the night before the event.

The next morning, I hung them up with my other work to see what would happen!

The yeiou paper objects booth popped up at Art Beat in Somerville, MA
My booth at Art Beat 2019, Davis Square, Somerville, MA.

Throughout the day I had a lot of fun conversations about how weirdly-shaped places are! I sold a few, swapped out some background colors, and generally felt encouraged.

When designing my Paper Places, I focused on making them in a way that felt clean and modern. I designed them to be easy to hang on a wall in a grouping without looking weird. Pulling from the bright color palette of my paper craft kits, I offered a bunch of different color options. Once I had all of that, I focused my efforts on adding new place designs. It turns out there are a LOT of places in the Boston area, let alone the world!

Nine maps of Boston neighborhoods: Back Bay, South End, Mattapan, Roxbury, Brighton, Roslindale, Mission Hill, Jamaica Plain, and Hyde Park
A few of the many neighborhoods of Boston, MA.

Custom Paper Places

I very quickly realized that I could never keep up with all of the requests for new places, nor could I reasonably predict which places people might want! In order to fill that gap, I added the option to order a custom-designed Paper Place! It’s been fun over the years to make gifts for parents, siblings, children, real estate clients, and friends, near and far.

Nov. 2019, one of my last in-person events before Covid lockdown – so many Paper Places!

Three years of Custom House Portraits

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a paper model of a house on display

In March of 2018, I was really burnt out from a busy holiday market season that happened immediately after several months of working full time while gutting and rebuilding our new kitchen and then moving to our new house. After running at over 100% capacity for something like 8 months, I decided to take some time to play, experiment and breathe. I made paper out of other paper! I painted pictures on paper for no reason! I slept in! I cooked dinners and breakfasts! It was glorious.

I haven’t been able to take time like that since, though, because the other thing that came out of that quieter season was the beginning of the custom house portraits! Based on a custom project I had finished for a friend in mid-2017, I stumbled my way through creating the first house portrait, a model of our little house in Arlington, MA. I shared the process on Instagram as I solved fun challenges like “the angle of the roof is NOT what I expected it to be!” and since there seemed to be at least a little interest, I decided to give it a go.

Abigail holding her first paper house portrait

I used the photos of this house portrait to list my very first “Custom House Portrait” in my Etsy shop for $50. I limited this pricing to 5 orders, since that would easily cover the cost of materials and shipping, but it wasn’t too much for what was essentially an excuse to learn and experiment.

A few brave souls took me up on it, and I embarked on this weird journey of figuring out things like “How do I give depth to a roof that you can’t really see in the photo?” and “How do I get the roof and floor of a porch to actually line up with the porch columns?” and “Just how thin can I make this sliver of paper before it disintegrates?”

I thought these first house portraits were SO detailed! I thought there was no way I’d be able to fit more detail into something like this! I did eventually have to move to a larger format (11×14 inches instead of 8×8), but still, three years ago me had no idea how far this was going to go.

One of the questions I get asked is some variation of “you’ve made a bunch of these, you must be so fast at it now!”, but because I’m a detail-oriented perfectionist, what I actually learn from each new house portrait I finish is how to pack even more details in so that it takes even longer to finish! I wouldn’t have it any other way, though, and I’m very fortunate to have the world’s most patient customers.

I created 17 house portraits in 2018, 34 in 2019, 22 in 2020, and 13 so far in 2021.

Looking ahead

In 2021 I plan to continue accepting orders in batches of 5-6 commissions, opening orders once every 2-3 months at a day and time announced only to those who’ve joined my email list. This is the best way I have right now of keeping my work queue manageable. At the beginning of 2020 I had an order queue 5 months long, it was incredibly stressful! I’m also trying to give a fair-ish chance to everyone – the day and time changes for each launch, to account for different time zones, schedules, etc.

This month’s launch will stay at my current pricing, but there will be an increase of some amount for the next launch (hopefully June or July 2021). I’m also hoping to upgrade to a higher quality frame and glass, either as a part of the standard pricing or an optional add-on.

I keep talking about carving out time to take another break like the one that started this all back in 2018, just some time to recharge and rest, but with everything else going on this last year it’s been all I could do to just keep going with the bare minimum. Making something that people want and want to pay me to make has been such a delight – after many years of struggling to make this business viable with products that just didn’t sell very well, being suddenly too busy is an amazing problem to have, but it still feels like a new problem that I’m actively learning how to manage!

Checking in

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Hand holding a place marker in front of a custom Paper Place framed map art

Last summer’s political and racial unrest here in the U.S. kicked off a season for me of learning, listening, and reevaluating. I haven’t talked much about it here. Mostly because, well, I’m a naive white woman, and listening is what I feel like I need to be focusing on right now. If you’ve been following along though, you know I said I was going to do some things. I thought I’d take a minute to report back.⁠

  • I realized that even though in my personal life we have always made sure to prioritize generosity in contributing to organizations we care about, it wasn’t something I was doing as a business. ⁠Since June, I (yeiou paper objects, that is) have been making monthly contributions to a local organization that works to keep families housed, and also helps unhoused families find emergency and long-term places to live.⁠ I contributed a portion of each house portrait sale in 2020 to an organization in my town that distributes food to families in need (a need that grew exponentially in 2020). ⁠
  • Over the summer I also made a one-time contribution to an organization that was running a creative business incubator program for students, which was a no-brainer for me to contribute to, since my own business was bootstrapped by my husband’s income, not something I would have been able to do without financial support!⁠
  • In addition to these concrete things, I’ve been looking inward and reflecting, reading, learning, and having conversations about what it means to be white in this country, where the idea of “whiteness” even came from, the systemic atrocities of white supremacy, and how to move toward something better…all sorts of light things.⁠

This doesn’t feel like much in the grand scheme of things, but if you were curious, that’s the update!⁠

Oh, and P.S. Black Lives Matter⁠

And, if you’re interested, here’s some of what I’ve been reading / watching to broaden my horizons and to better understand the colonial and white supremacist backdrop of the world I’ve been raised and living in:

Reading & Watching List

Non-Fiction

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

Heartland

All the Agents and Saints

Stamped

American Harvest

The NYT 1619 Project

Fiction

Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Talents

Kindred

The Broken Earth Trilogy

The City We Became

Watching

The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross

Thirteenth

Dear Georgina (I also want to watch their longer documentary, Dawnland)

This is of course just a tiny list in the grand scheme of things, I may add to it over time, but if you’re curious about other things to read and watch there are lists pretty much everywhere.