Heads of the Colored People is a short story collection by Nafissa Thompson-Spires that you must had to your TBR pile right now. It’s smart, inventive, funny, devastating, and the first collection I’ve read in a long time where I genuinely liked every single story. From Black Lives Matter to office politics to parenthood to female reproductive health and beyond, Nafissa Thompson-Spires tackles so much in this collection without hitting you over the head with it and all while drawing you into her world. Many of the stories within this collection stand in tandem, but you can read any of them separately.
My favorite story was Belles Lettres, in which two well-do-to black women, the mothers of the only two black girls in a school, exchange increasingly angry letters through their daughter’s backpacks about everything from their children’s clothes to their attitudes to their grades and beyond. The administration gets involved. Some REALLY sharp barbs are exchanged. This story made me actually laugh out loud. Not only was every letter well crafted, even the changing signatures were funny and helped you understand the evolution of the conflict. I also liked the story titled This Todd in which a woman Kim cycles through the “Todds” she has dated and how she ended up with a restraining order against her because of her fetish.
I cannot recommend this story collection enough. It’s a quick read but packs a real punch. It didn’t feel as weighty as I was expecting, and yes those stories that deal with the harm against black bodies and police violence are strongly done and important, but Thompson-Spires humor with everyday life and situations is what stuck with me the most. I look forward to reading more by her someday!
Here’s the full Amazon blurb:
Calling to mind the best works of Paul Beatty and Junot Díaz, this collection of moving, timely, and darkly funny stories examines the concept of black identity in this so-called post-racial era.
A stunning new talent in literary fiction, Nafissa Thompson-Spires grapples with black identity and the contemporary middle class in these compelling, boundary-pushing vignettes.
Each captivating story plunges headfirst into the lives of new, utterly original characters. Some are darkly humorous—from two mothers exchanging snide remarks through notes in their kids’ backpacks, to the young girl contemplating how best to notify her Facebook friends of her impending suicide—while others are devastatingly poignant—a new mother and funeral singer who is driven to madness with grief for the young black boys who have fallen victim to gun violence, or the teen who struggles between her upper middle class upbringing and her desire to fully connect with black culture.
Thompson-Spires fearlessly shines a light on the simmering tensions and precariousness of black citizenship. Her stories are exquisitely rendered, satirical, and captivating in turn, engaging in the ongoing conversations about race and identity politics, as well as the vulnerability of the black body. Boldly resisting categorization and easy answers, Nafissa Thompson-Spires is an original and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.