The fiction longlist for the National Book Award was announced Friday. There are ten great books on the list (Tayari Jones' American Marriage, Lauren Groff's Florida...just to name a few). Rounding out the list is a collection of short stories that I recently borrowed from Carleton's library: Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires. I read the collection in a day-- it's quick and super smart. Most of the stories focus on the trauma of being the only black person in a particular space (school, yoga class, etc). Primarily, Thompson-Spires focuses on the experiences of black children and young adults at PWIs.
Heads of the Colored People is named after a collection of nineteenth century literary sketches by James McCune Smith (they were published in Frederick Douglas' newspaper, The North Star). These sketches focus on different aspects of the black working class in nineteenth century New York. Thompson Spires' short story collection describes a diverse set of black Americans in college, high school, church, and yoga classes. Most of these characters do not experience overt racism, but are exposed to daily microaggressions in predominantly white spaces. We meet a black English professor at a small liberal arts college, a black child with hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), and the families of the only two black children at a private school. While Thompson Spires primarily focuses on how people of color experience race based discrimination in predominantly white spaces, she also reflects upon the sometimes strained relationships between the few black individuals in these spaces. In "The Body's Defenses Against Itself," Thompson Spires describes the competitive (and sometimes cruel) relationship between the only two black students in a 6th grade class.
This is a GREAT short story collection. I highly recommend. Finalists for the National Book Award will be announced October 10. I hope Thompson Spires is on that list.