11 April 2018

The Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Work has been keeping my very busy these last couple of weeks.  I’m grappling with questions about my future and my job, all while trying to stay on top of myriad deadlines.  In the midst of all of that, my book reviewing and blogging have fallen behind a little, so to make myself feel a bit better, here’s a mini review of a new collection of short stories.

Heads of the Colored People is a debut that simply blew me away, particularly the titular story, which is a true powerhouse (with a nod to Eudora Welty). Subtitled “Four Fancy Sketches, Two Chalk Outlines, and No Apology,” it plays with the fourth wall, turns readerly expectations upside down, makes you laugh, and then utterly guts you. I mean, seriously sucker punches you.

I picked up this collection of stories because of the provocative title and stayed for the sheer writerly talent contained within.  Thompson-Spires’ narrative voice is so distinct, so self-assured, that it defies belief that this is her first book.  Edgy but always accessible, she’s a new literary talent to be reckoned with. Put this book on the shelf with Junot Diaz and Roxane Gay, where it will be in good company. Seriously. Just buy this book.

Heads of the Colored People went on sale in the US yesterday, published by Atria, a division of Simon & Schuster.  I read an advance reading copy provided at my request by the publisher. My coworker and I liked this book so much that we made it a selection for my store’s signed First Editions Club, and I am very much looking forward to meeting Nafissa Thompson-Spires in person at the end of this month.


  1. OOOOH! Sounds good. I think you have to have a really exceptional collection of short stories for someone to want to publish them, is that right? That it's not easy getting short stories these days? I'm intrigued by the title too.
    Also, I know this is off topic but I've just finished writing a novel. My protagonist is mid-twenties. Is that automatically "new adult"—which I understand is a fairly new category—or still women's fiction? And how do you differentiate "upmarket fiction" from commercial or literary? What would you be looking for in that genre????????? When you have a minute! Ha!

    1. Oooh, congrats on finishing writing your book! “New Adult” isn’t something I give much truck to, but my understanding of it is that that new sub genre is more for a book where 20-somethings are finding themselves, having a second coming of age/having a sexual awakening/that sort of thing. So it’s more the subject of the book and less the age of protagonist, although the age has to be there for it to be New Adult.

      Literary fic is a term I use when the writing style is at least as important as the character development and the plot, but literary novels aren’t excluded from being commercial successes, as a snapshot of any fiction bestseller list will show you. For my store, “upmarket” is more an expectation of readership -- probably mostly white people, probably mostly upper middle class -- which in turn is often, but not always, a reflection of the socio-economic class of the characters. think books like “The Nest” and “The Arrangements.” But those are gross generalizations, and also a direct reflection of my store’s demographics, which is in a really, really non-diverse community in terms of race. you could just as easily argue that Brit Bennett’s The Mothers is upmarket fiction as it is literary fiction, and that’s the case for this book of short stories, too.

    2. Thank you Emily. That's helpful. While the book fits the "new adult" coming of age subject matter, I aspire to write literary fiction—although just writing that phrase makes me feel uncomfortable. Both pretentious and full of hubris, lol. thanks again!


Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)