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About the book
  • Published: 15 August 2018
  • ISBN: 9781781090633
  • Imprint: Chatto & Windus
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 224
  • RRP: $32.99

Heads of the Colored People

A bitter and brilliant kaleidoscope of middle-class black life in America

**Shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction 2019**
**Longlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction 2018**
*Finalist for the Kirkus Prize 2018*
*Longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize 2019*

In this crackling debut collection Nafissa Thompson-Spires interrogates our supposedly post-racial era. To wicked and devastating effect she exposes the violence, both external and self-inflicted, that threatens black Americans, no matter their apparent success.

A teenager is insidiously bullied as her YouTube following soars; an assistant professor finds himself losing a subtle war of attrition against his office mate; a nurse is worn down by the demand for her skills as a funeral singer. And across a series of stories, a young woman grows up, negotiating and renegotiating her identity.

Heads of the Colored People shows characters in crisis, both petty and catastrophic. It marks the arrival of a remarkable writer and an essential and urgent new voice.

  • Pub date: 15 August 2018
  • ISBN: 9781781090633
  • Imprint: Chatto & Windus
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 224
  • RRP: $32.99

About the Author

Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Nafissa Thompson-Spires earned a PhD in English from Vanderbilt University and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The White Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly, StoryQuarterly, Lunch Ticket and The Feminist Wire, among other publications. She is a 2016 participant of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, a 2017 Tin House workshopee, and a 2017 Sewanee Writers Conference Stanley Elkin Scholar. Born in San Diego, California, she now lives in Illinois with her husband.

Praise for Heads of the Colored People

“Vivid, fast, funny, way-smart, and verbally inventive, these stories by the vastly talented Thompson-Spires create a compelling surface tension made of equal parts scepticism towards human nature and intense fondness of it. Located on the big questions, they are full of heart”

George Saunders

“The stories here are dazzling, wise, wicked and tender. Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ debut is a knockout”

Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble and Magic for Beginners

“The kind of collection that makes you shake your head in delight. Her voice is fresh-laundry-clean: I have not read anything like it in years. The prose is cunning. It appears simple, but the overall effect is powerful. Her stories feel simultaneously like the poke of a stick and a comforting balm; a smack followed by a kiss. I’m so into it.”

Bim Adewunmi, Guardian

“Every so often, a voice comes along that knocks you sideways; this debut collection of short stories was one such moment. From the first page there’s an electricity and freshness to the voice that grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let me go”

Andrew McMillan, Observer

“[Thompson-Spires] writes satire of the Paul Beatty school, her humour as daring as it is disarming. This is a firecracker of a book, sizzling with politics, but it's also a triumph of storytelling: intelligent, acerbic and ingenious”

Lucy Scholes, Financial Times

“An unusually intricate matrix of clear-eyed observation and devastating revelation about what it means to be a human being alive on this aching, raucous, unjust planet in the early 21st century. It is also, often, extremely funny, and is very smart on every page and gorgeously, rewardingly varied in its sentences and forms”

Laird Hunt

“For the freshest voice in literature, look no further than Nafissa Thompson-Spires blisteringly clever short story collection, Heads of the Colored People… Sometimes, a voice comes around that is so singular, so funny, so wholly original, that you go back and reread each story once you finish it… In each of these humorous, intelligent vignettes, Thompson-Spires explores aspects of being Black and middle-class in today’s America. This is a special collection. Buy it so you can read it more than once”

Elizabeth Kiefer, Refinery29

“Thompson-Spires' stories are dark, have a cutting sense of humour, and are entertaining and essential ”

Sarah Shaffi, Stylist

“Her electric style is extrovert, erudite and hugely entertaining, despite the often grim subject matter... Thompson-Spires invigoratingly hits the mark... you end the collection greedy to read whatever is coming next from this unmistakable talent”

Anthony Cummins, The Observer

“Witty, mischievous... These coolly ironic and grimly funny tales brim with snap and verve, and this is a debut collection of daring and aplomb ”

Colin Grant, The Guardian

“The level of detail that goes into each of Nafissa Thompson-Spires’s sentences is astonishing, and the worlds that she can create in just a few words are mind-blowing. Ready yourself for this collection. It will change the way you look at writing, and at how you see things”

Candice Carty-Williams

“Nafissa Thompson-Spires pulls no punches in her boundary-pushing short-story collection ... With gallows humour and brazen originality, the author plunges us deep into the interiorities of quirkily indelible characters ... Thompson-Spires's virtuosity is breathtaking ... Funny, smart and of the moment, this electrifying debut marks the emergence of a daring talent”

Morgan Jerkins, O Magazine

“Superbly witty... The topics she takes on are often deadly serious, but every story flashes grim humor. She is also a brutally sharp observer”

Janet Maslin, New York Times

“What a true pleasure it is to spend time with this alive mind thinking so openly and interestingly on the page about character and culture and storytelling and one’s everchanging role in it all. This book made me laugh many times, and I also sometimes stopped midpage to read a paragraph aloud just to relish how Thompson-Spires was moving her story along. A marvel of a debut”

Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

“By turns hilarious, charming, ingenious, and heartbreaking, Thompson-Spires’ debut is well worth checking out”

Gabrielle Bellot, LitHub

“This is one of the best short story debuts I’ve read in my whole life. It’s that simple. Nafissa Thompson-Spires is the real deal. Straight up, no hyperbole. Read a couple pages and recognize”

Mat Johnson, author of Loving Day

“Every once in a while a book comes around that fills a need — that communicates ideas so effectively and humanely its social value leaps off the page. Heads, the debut of Nafissa Thompson-Spires, is such a book ... Stories run the gamut from intimate to uproarious to devastating ... Writing in versatile prose and with a penchant for naturalistic dialogue...she weaves timeless human conflict into a quietly political tapestry.”

David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly

“Nafissa Thompson-Spires creates characters whose fates become, in the space of just a few pages, crucially important to us. She's intelligent, she's funny, and at her best she's phenomenally good”

Chris Power, author of Mothers

“[Thompson-Spires] writes with complete control, building a story in the precise shape of her anger. Her sentences intertwine and double back on themselves, and each one stings”

Lois Beckett, Guardian

“Nafissa Thompson-Spires has taken the best of what Toni Cade Bambara, Paul Beatty, Morgan Parker...do plus a whole lot of something we've never seen in American literature, blended it all together and given us one of the finest short story collections I've ever read. The super thin lines between terror, intimacy, humor and hubris are masterfully toed, jumped and ultimately redrawn in the most exciting and soulful fiction I've read this century. The nation needed Heads of Colored People 40 years ago. Thankfully, we Nafissa Thompson-Spires gave it to us now.”

Kiese Laymon

“Stuffed with invention… Thompson-Spires proves herself a trenchant humorist with an eye for social nuance”

Publishers Weekly

“Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ stories fearlessly tackle broad issues of race, identity politics, and the body, while never losing sight of the intricately-faceted individuals inhabiting those bodies. She writes with a precision of psychological insight that is both moving and profound. Dignified, controlled, and, above all, original: Thompson-Spires is an important new voice in contemporary fiction”

Jamie Quatro, author Fire Sermon

“From the opening sentences of the opening story in Nafissa Thompson-Spires's debut collection, Heads of the Colored People, we're in a world of humour, provocation and deep reflection”

John Williams, New York Times

“With devastating insight and remarkable style, Nafissa Thompson-Spires explores what it means to come to terms with one’s body, one’s family, one’s future. The eleven vignettes in Heads of the Colored People elevate the unusual and expose the unseen, forming an original—and urgent—portrait of American life”

Allegra Hyde, author of Of This New World

“Nafissa Thompson-Spires has a way of staring intense, awkward, comic, and sorrowful situations right in the face. There's no escaping her honest gaze. Heads of the Colored People is a necessary and powerful new collection with, thankfully, not a dull sentence to be found”

Peter Orner, author of Am I Alone Here

“[A] dazzling collection... Transgressive and wildly funny, Heads of the Colored People announces a major new talent”

Ms. Magazine

“Darkly humorous and incredibly moving, "Heads of the Colored People" is a wonderful collection of short stories ... The book couldn't be more timely — and even the stories that seem light-hearted on the surface are, at their center, incredibly intelligent reflections on race, identity, and blackness. Nafissa Thompson-Spires has written a masterpiece.”

Gina Mei, Shondaland.com

“Intricate, playful... Thompson-Spires crafts a narrative voice which always walks one step ahead, sometimes turning to us with a wink, before getting back to what really needs to be said... The minutiae of her characters’ lives are a joy to read for the purity of the unremarkable, and yet there is nothing light about her subject matter. Thompson-Spires’ juxtaposing of small normalities against larger, more crippling truths powerfully draws attention to the oppressively racialised realities of her characters’ lives... A much longed-for portrayal of a black normality”

Victoria Adukwei Bulley, The White Review

“This short story collection is filled with characters that will your win your heart in a matter of words. This book is a must-read”

Melissa Ragsdale, Bustle

“Clever, cruel, hilarious, heartbreaking, and at times simply ingenious”

Gabrielle Bellot, Los Angeles Review of Books

“From petty classroom moms to a young girl who is contemplating taking her own life, these stories are deep and touching. We promise you’ll fall in love with this book, just like we did”

She Reads

“A dazzling mix of dark, funny and wicked stories about black identity in the so-called post-racial era. Reminiscent of the catchy intelligence of Paul Beatty...this debut audaciously tackles race and identity politics”

Chicago Review of Books

“This collection resonates on many frequencies. There are direct links between characters in several of the stories, many of whom are foils for each other, and their nuances are sure to strike a chord with any reader who’s struggled with insecurity and a search for self… Thompson-Spires writes with grace, a lightly bitter humor, and a real eye for a detail that calls attention to the simultaneous reality and fictionality of each story… A profound and truly enjoyable collection”

Anna Meyer, The Riveter

“A bold new voice, at once insolently sardonic ... Thompson-Spires flashes fearsome gifts for quirky characterisation, irony-laden repartee and edgy humour”

Kirkus Reviews

“Tremendous... One of the best books of the year... a breakthrough in literary fiction”

Christopher Borrelli, Chicago Tribune

“Bubbly and sardonic, full of sly twists and dramatic reveals”

Allison Noelle Conner, The Rumpus

“[An] impressive debut collection… [Nafissa Thompson-Spires’] electric style is extrovert, erudite and hugely entertaining… [an] unmistakable talent”

Anthony Cummins, Observer

“A fresh take on what it means to be black in today’s America”


“Furiously contemporary, Heads of the Colored People feels like a bulletin from the world delivered in the last couple of seconds”


“Superb… This is a firecracker of a book, sizzling with politics, but it’s also a triumph of storytelling: intelligent, acerbic and ingenious”

Lucy Scholes, Financial Times

“Characters’ observations are delivered with clarity and precision; their responses to tragic situations are often filled with humour… [Heads of the Colored People] explore the internal and external tensions of moving through life in a body of colour”

Luie Elliott, Times Literary Supplement

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