Great Fiction: Celebrating American Authors
Annotation:Cowritten by Malcolm X’s daughter, this riveting and revealing novel follows the formative years of the man whose words and actions shook the world. Malcolm Little’s parents have always told him that he can achieve anything, but from what he can tell, that’s a pack of lies—after all, his father’s been murdered, his mother’s been taken away, and his dreams of becoming a lawyer have gotten him laughed out of school. There’s no point in trying, he figures, and lured by the nightlife of Boston and New York, he escapes into a world of fancy suits, jazz, girls, and reefer. But Malcolm’s efforts to leave the past behind lead him into increasingly dangerous territory. Deep down, he knows that the freedom he’s found is only an illusion—and that he can’t run forever. X follows Malcolm from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty, when he found the faith that would lead him to forge a new path and command a voice that still resonates today.
Annotation:Kenya Curtis is only eight years old, but she knows that she’s different, even if she can’t put her finger on how or why. A coming-of-age tale, a portrait of Philadelphia in the late eighties and early nineties, an examination of the impossible double-binds of race, Disgruntled is a novel about the desire to rise above the limitations of the narratives we’re given and the painful struggle to craft fresh ones we can call our own.
Annotation:"Ephram Jenkins has never forgotten the beautiful girl with the long braids running through the piney woods of Liberty, their small East Texas town. Young Ruby, "the kind of pretty it hurt to look at," is already quite damaged, but Ephram is forcibly drawn to her. As soon as she becomes a young woman and has any power of her own, Ruby flees suffocating Liberty for the bright pull of 1950s New York City. Years later, when a funeral forces her to return home, 30-year-old Ruby will find herself reliving the devastating violence of her girlhood.
Annotation:Winner of the 2013 National Book Award. Musician and author McBride offers a fresh perspective on abolitionist firebrand John Brown in this novel disguised as the memoir of a slave boy who pretends to be a girl in order to escape pre-Civil War turmoil, only to find himself riding with John Brown's retinue of rabble-rousers from Bloody Kansas to Harpers Ferry.
Annotation:“I called up to Mama, 'Is this a miracle?' She raised and lowered her shoulders. Her voice drifted down, 'Maybe. Or maybe this is just what's supposed to be.' " Meet Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean...Earl's All-You-Can-Eat is home away from home for this inseparable Plainview, Indiana, trio. Dubbed The Supremes by high school pals in the tumultuous 1960s, they weather life's storms together for the next four decades.
Annotation:“Giovanni had awakened an itch, had released a gnaw in me. I realized it one afternoon, when I was taking him to work via the Boulevard Montparnasse. We had bought a kilo of cherries and we were eating them as we walked along. We were both insufferably childish and high-spirited that afternoon and the spectacle we presented, two grown men jostling each other on the wide sidewalk and aiming the cherry pits, as though they were spitballs, into each other's faces, must have been outrageous. And I realized that such childishness was fantastic at my age and the happiness out of which it sprang yet more so; for that moment I really loved Giovanni, who had never seemed more beautiful than he was that afternoon.” The audiobook version of James Baldwin's classic story of love and identity.
Annotation:“...Hattie wanted to give her babies names that weren't already chiseled on a headstone in the family plots in Georgia, so she gave them names of promise and of hope, reaching-forward names, not looking-back ones.”
Annotation:“In my head, I was getting 'gangsta,' which I've always felt showed greater intent than getting 'gangster' in that it expresses a willful unlawfulness even upon its own linguistic representation.” Chris Jaynes, professor of African American studies, has been denied tenure for his refusal to sit on the Diversity Committee at his university and for his intense interest in Edgar Allan Poe. Enraged, he nearly implodes before discovering a lost manuscript proving that Poe's only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, is a factual account. Jaynes devises a mission to find the lost, black-inhabited island near Antarctica described in Poe's narrative, setting off with an all-black crew that includes his seafaring cousin; his obese friend Garth; his ex-fiancee, Angela, and her husband, Nathaniel; and two flamboyant mechanics.
Annotation:“And this is how it started. Just with coffee and the exchange of their long stories. Love can be incremental. Predicaments, too. Coffee can start a life just as it can start a day. This was the meeting of two people who were destined to love from before they were born, from before they made choices that would complicate their lives. This love just rolled toward my mother as though she were standing at the bottom of a steep hill. Mother had no hand in this, only heart.”
Annotation:Sisters Shange ("for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf") and Bayeza ("The Ballad of Emmet Till") have joined forces to tell a fictional version of their family history through the lives of seven generations of powerful women.
Annotation:“ 'There are times in your life when things line up and Fate takes a hand in your future,' Ptolemy remembered Coydog saying. 'When that happens, you got to move quick and take advantage of the sitchiation or you'll never know what might have been.' 'How do I know when it's time to move quick?' L'il Pea asked. 'When somethin' big happens and then somethin' else come up.' "
Annotation:Baraka, who has had a long and distinguished career as a poet, fiction writer, activist, and provocateur, here presents a collection of previously unpublished short stories spanning almost 30 years, from 1974 to 2003.
Annotation:Inspired by Carl Hiaasen and Victor D. LaValle in equal measure, Solon Timothy Woodward mines the nether regions of Florida in search of high drama and raucous comedy. Full of sex, death, and humor, this bawdy, brilliant debut introduces us to three generations of a family in the boisterous, unholy, uncompromising landscape that is the South of today.
Annotation:A gorgeous, thoughtful collection of short fiction that links to Jones' earlier "Lost in the City." Jones won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for his 2003 novel, "The Known World."
Annotation:God's Gym is the first story collection in more than a decade from one of our most celebrated American authors. A two-time winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and a finalist for the National Book Award, John Edgar Wideman is a master of the short story. He was awarded the prestigious Rea Award for accomplishment in the short story form, and these electric, mesmerizing stories have appeared in numerous magazines, including Harper's Magazine, GQ, Esquire, Callalloo, and Fiction, as well as in The Best American Short Stories.
Annotation:"Kate thought Yolo was of the bear spirit. The bear, according to ancient people who had known bears well, was of a loyal, generous and young-loving nature. Bear mothers were the most dedicated parents imaginable. The most fierce in protecting their young; but also the most peaceful creatures when left unmolested. People with bear spirit had a certain level feel about them: they often seemed large and strong, even if they weren't particularly. They gave off a vibe that made you want to sit near them. Not to talk, necessarily, but to feel." Fiction from Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker (author of "The Color Purple").
Annotation:“She did not want to say it, because it made no practical sense, but in the end she went to Japan for the delicate sake cups, resting in her hand like a blossom; she went to Japan for loveliness.” "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere" is ZZ Packer's debut collection of stories. Her impressive range and talent are abundantly evident: Packer dazzles with her command of language, surprising and delighting us with unexpected turns and indelible images, as she takes us into the lives of characters on the periphery, unsure of where they belong.
Annotation:Freed from the constraints of nonfiction, Yale law professor Carter offers scathing social commentary in his first novel. This suspenseful tale of ambition, revenge, and the power of familial obligations is set in the privileged environs of an Ivy League law school, Martha's Vineyard, and Washington, D.C.
Annotation:“Sometimes you meet yourself on the road before you have a chance to learn the appropriate greeting. Faced with your own possibilities, the hard part is knowing a speech is not required. All you have to say is yes.”
Annotation:“I lost an arm on my last trip home.” Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned across the years to save him. Fiction from the celebrated sci-fi author Octavia E. Butler, winner of Hugo and Nebula awards as well as the MacArthur Fellowship.
Annotation:"Her mind traveled crooked streets and aimless goat paths, arriving sometimes at profundity, other times at the revelations of a three-year-old. Throughout this fresh, if common, pursuit of knowledge, one conviction crowned her efforts: ...she knew there was nothing to fear.” One of Nobel Prize winner Morrison's finest. See also: "Beloved," "Sula," "The Bluest Eye," "Home," and others.
Annotation:When Ralph Ellison died in 1994, he left behind a manuscript he'd been working on since the '50s. John Callahan's introduction to this long-awaited edition explores Ellison's life and the history of this second novel (after, of course, the classic "Invisible Man"), cataloging such disasters as the near-finished manuscript being destroyed in a fire in 1967...
Annotation:“With these coming children we never relinquish the past. We keep seeing somebody gone in each new one.” Clarke's debut novel, as lyric and alternately beguiling and confounding as its title. It is the story of the drowning of a six-year-old child, and the tragedy's ramifications for her family and neighbors in the black area of Georgetown in 1925 D.C.
Annotation:“Brewster Place became especially fond of its colored daughters as they milled like determined spirits among its decay, trying to make it home. Nutmeg arms leaned over windowsills, gnarled ebony legs carried groceries up double flights of steps, and saffron hands strung out wet laundry on backyard lines. Their perspiration mingled with the steam from boiling pots of smoked pork greens, and it curled on the edges of the aroma of vinegar douches and Evening in Paris cologne that drifted through the street where they stood together - hands on hips, straight-backed, round-bellied, high-behinded women who threw their heads back when they laughed and exposed strong teeth and dark gums. They cursed, badgered, worshiped, and shared their men. Their love drove them to fling dishcloths in someone else's kitchen to help him make the rent, or to fling hot lye to help him forget that bitch behind the counter at the five-and-dime. They were hard-edged, soft-centered, brutally demanding, and easily pleased, these women of Brewster Place. They came, they went, grew up, and grew old beyond their years. Like an ebony phoenix, each in her own time and with her own season had a story."
Annotation:“Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now, women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.” The beautiful and brilliant novel from folklorist, anthropologist, and author Zora Neale Hurston.
Annotation:“He had been taught that bread unshared is bread unblessed when someone else is hungry, whether man or beast, friend or stranger.” The tranquility of a late summer weekend in 1953 is shattered by a tragic accident in this spare, affecting novel by one of the last surviving members of the Harlem Renaissance.