Long after I read Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ new book, “Heads of the Colored People: Stories,” I found myself thinking about these vignettes and the people that populate them. The characters are quirky, disturbing, funny, tragic, but most of all real, and their stories are tightly written and deeply rooted in issues of today.
As the book begins, Thompson-Spires puts us, with “no apology,” in the middle of a police shooting. The story unfolds through a series of character sketches that blew me away by demonstrating the author’s succinct way of drawing a gripping portrait of an issue that is so immediate.
Another memorable story is “Not Today, Marjorie.” Marjorie’s wait at the DMV is the vehicle that lets us see that she is struggling with who she is and who she wants to be. As I read, I found myself laughing uncomfortably. Marjorie has flaws — big flaws — and those flaws and the setting are so relatable.
The stories are loosely woven together, but they also stand alone as sharp, clever, social commentary. One thing that they all have in common is a certain amount of punch. Expect surprises.
Fortunately for us, Thompson-Spires is a local author. She is an assistant professor of English, African American Studies and Jewish Culture and Society at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
On her faculty web page, she describes her work in this way: “In my fiction, I consider what it means to be a (black) subject in an era of alleged postracialism, particularly when gender, technology and disability intersect with racial identity.”
“Heads of the Colored Prople” does just that. I look forward to reading more of her insightful, thought-provoking work in the future.