Andrew Malan Milward's I Was a Revolutionary is an expertly crafted story collection all set in America's heartland, exploring the ways history and identity become part of the land. Milward, a native of Kansas who now teaches in Mississippi, picks 10 of his favorite story collections that evoke place.

Eudora Welty once said, “Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else.… Fiction depends for its life on place.” I think she was absolutely right. More than character or plot, or any other craft element, place has always been the starting point for me in my writing. And by place I mean more than setting; whereas setting tends to refer to a specific location of a scene or event (a supermarket, house, car), place is a more macro-level totality of those locations that when unified geographically can evoke for the reader a deep sense and understanding of a specific region and culture. I love books, particularly story collections, that are able to pull this off.

In compiling this list I set a few limits and goals. I would not use Dubliners or Winesburg, Ohio, rightly revered as they are, because, hey, guys, let’s share the wealth. I would not list anyone who blurbed my book, which means that three absolutely wonderful place-centric collections—Donald Ray Pollock’s Knockemstiff, Jim Gavin’s Play the Man, and Shawn Vestal’s Godforsaken Idaho—could not be in contention, though you should read them if you haven’t. And lastly, I wanted to have a good sampling of different time periods and places. I present them here in order in which they were published.

1. Red Cavalry by Isaac Babel (1926) - These stories were based on notebooks Babel kept while fighting against the counterrevolutionary forces in Poland as a member of the Red Army. The sense of place evoked here is the war-torn countryside along the Polish-Russia border. It is a place that is harsh and violent one moment, and hilarious and touching the next. Because he was honest in his depictions of war and not merely writing agitprop for the government, Babel was considered dangerous and was eventually killed as part of Stalin’s horrific purge. Denis Johnson claimed to have essentially copied Red Cavalry when writing the stories in Jesus’ Son, which sounds like a joke but then kind of starts to make sense the more you think about it.

2. The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz (1934) - Like Isaac Babel, Bruno Schulz was another writer murdered by a totalitarian regime, in this case the Nazis. It’s sad to think what they could have written had they merely been allowed to live, but we can be thankful for what exists. The Street of Crocodiles depicts the rich merchant culture of a small Galatian town much like the one where Schulz grew called Drohobycz, (formerly southern Poland, now Ukraine). It’s a world full of storekeepers and shops, where family and business overlap in interesting and complicated ways. More than anything, however, it’s a world full of magic and mythology and Schulz captures it lyrically and hauntingly through the eyes of his young unnamed narrator.

3. The Long Valley by John Steinbeck (1938) - Unlike Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner, writers admired for their novels and short stories, Steinbeck is a writer whose stories have been neglected over the years. It’s a shame because the twelve pieces that make up The Long Valley are terrific, and together they paint a picture of his beloved Salinas Valley as rich as any of his novels. As with all of the collections on this list, The Long Valley should be read start to finish; however, if you need a gateway drug or two, check out “The Chrysanthemums” and “The Murder.”

4. The Golden Apples by Eudora Welty (1949) - While I grew up in Kansas, and continue to write about it almost obsessively, I have lived in Mississippi for almost five years now and have taken quite a liking to my new home in Hattiesburg. A few years ago I drove to Jackson to visit Eudora Welty’s home, a lovely way to pass a languid Mississippi afternoon, and left the gift shop with several of her books. I’d read a lot of other excellent Mississippi writers—the list is long, as we know—but somehow Welty was an embarrassing gap for me. When I asked the young man behind the register at the gift shop what I should start with, he said, “The stories. Golden Apples” without hesitation, adding, “They’ll knock you on your ass.” And that’s exactly what these stories did. Welty’s fictitious Morgana, Mississippi is an interesting counterpoint to Faulkner’s famed Yoknapatawpha County, the former focusing on a more a consistently upper-middle class milieu while the latter examines the extremes of the class divide.

5. Enormous Changes at the Last Minute by Grace Paley (1974) - It’s hard to go wrong with any of the three outstanding collections Paley published over four decades and which are gathered in her Collected Stories, but for my money Enormous Changes is the best. Angela Carter wrote that these stories “capture the itch of the city” and I agree. Paley brings New York City to roiling life through a diverse cast of characters, and manages to explore weighty issues of race, class, gender, and politics in prose that is witty and subversively lightsome.

6. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie (1993) - One of the epigraphs of this contemporary classic comes from Lou Reed: “There’s a little bit of magic in everything and then some loss to even things out.” It’s a perfect summation of life for Alexie’s characters on the Spokane Indian Reservation, which is a world of hurricanes and hallucinations that veers from the real to the surreal. Alexie renders it all vividly with equal parts humor, sadness, compassion, and, yes, magic.

7. Drown by Junot Diaz (1996) - I’m cheating a little bit here, because this collection, which remains my favorite Diaz book, is a two-fer special in terms of place. In stories like “Ysrael” and “Aguantando” Diaz explores Yunior and his family’s life in the Dominican Republic and in stories like “Fiesta, 1980” and “Aurora” he shows the reader their life in New Jersey. But it’s absolutely necessary that he does so, because as immigrants his characters are forever bound to two places. Like Alexie, Diaz does not sugarcoat his characters’ experience in these stories, but there’s plenty of humor and pathos. These stories continue to reward with each re-reading.

8. Close Range by Annie Proulx (1999) - This is the first of Proulx’s terrific trilogy of Wyoming stories, and I love the way she’s able to make the desolate Wyoming landscape almost unbearably beautiful. Her descriptions of the rural countryside leave me fetal with envy and admiration, as do the dramas and knotty predicaments of her well-rounded characters. There are the classic mini-epics like “The Half-Skinned Deer,” “The Mud Below,” and “Brokeback Mountain,” but not to be missed are the small macabre delights like “55 Miles to the Gas Pump” and “The Blood Bay.”

9. Other Electricities by Ander Monson (2005) - Perhaps the least familiar collection on the list, Other Electricities is a tour de force example of place captured, in this case Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where the snowbound landscape of ice and frost mirrors the characters’ stuck-ness, their struggle to deal with loss and tragedy. What’s all the more amazing is how Monson accomplishes this perfect execution of place through a diverse mix of stylistic and formal experimentation, incorporating lists, drawings, schematics, prose poems, catalogues, and indices.

10. Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins (2012) - Wow. That’s what I thought after reading the first story in Watkins’s debut collection, and I continued to have that visceral and not particularly insightful reaction after nearly every story in the book, which mines the history and present of the American west, particularly her home state, Nevada. One of the things I love about a book like this is that it shows me the incredible-ness of a place I’d never really given much thought. As someone from a state largely considered a fly-over afterthought, I appreciate when a writer like Watkins is able to entice us to look closely at a place and see how truly remarkable it is.