Heads of the Colored People

Heads of the Colored People
224 pages
Nafissa Thompson-Spires pulls no punches in her boundary-pushing short-story collection, Heads of the Colored People. Take "Suicide, Watch," a satirical tale about a social media maven who decides to end it all—then abruptly changes her mind. It opens: "Jilly took her head out of the oven mainly because it was hot and the gas did not work independently of the pilot light." With gallows humor and brazen originality, the author plunges us deep into the interiorities of quirkily indelible characters, mostly black women, keeping us focused on the chaos beneath surface-level stability.

Thompson-Spires has a gift for rendering difficult topics—race and gender, to name two—with delicacy, timeliness, and even whimsy. In "Whisper to a Scream," Raina is subjected to racial epithets and fetish jokes as she makes online relaxation videos. The interplay between Standard English and Ebonics in "Fatima, the Biloquist: A Transformation Story" shrewdly illuminates the code-switching many African Americans undertake to fit in.

In eschewing conventional story structures, Thompson-Spires's virtuosity is breathtaking. The titular tale, for instance, features a panoply of points of view, all pivoting around one tragic event. In the epistolary "Belles Lettres," two mothers exchange passive-aggressive notes via their kids' backpacks. Funny, smart, and #ofthemoment, this electrifying debut marks the emergence of a daring talent whose characters are as comfortable referencing Octavia Butler and Flannery O'Connor as they are dropping allusions to Fetty Wap and Patti Mayonnaise.
— Morgan Jerkins