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Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Connection to Illinois: Thompson-Spires lives in Champaign. She was an Assistant Professor of English, African American Studies, and Jewish Culture and Society at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Biography: Nafissa Thompson-Spires grew up in Rialto, California. She earned a doctorate in English from Vanderbilt University and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois. Her work has appeared in Story Quarterly, Lunch Ticket, East Bay Review, Compose, Blinders, FLOW, The Feminist Wire, among other publications. She was a 2016 fellow of the Callaloo Writer's Workshop. Currently, she serves as the Richards Family Assistant Professor at Cornell University.

  • Heads of the Colored People Winner of the PEN Open Book Award Winner of the Whiting Award Longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award and Aspen Words Literary Prize Nominated for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize Finalist for the Kirkus Prize and Los Angeles Times Book Prize Included in Best Books of 2018 Lists from Refinery29, NPR, The Root, HuffPost, Vanity Fair, Bustle, Chicago Tribune, PopSugar, and The Undefeated.

Primary Literary Genre(s): Fiction

Primary Audience(s): Adult readers


Selected Titles

Heads of the Colored People: Stories
ISBN: 1501168002 OCLC: 989963508

37 Ink 2019

Each captivating story plunges headfirst into the lives of utterly original characters. Some are darkly humorous—two mothers exchanging snide remarks through notes in their kids’ backpacks—while others are devastatingly poignant. In the title story, when a cosplayer, dressed as his favorite anime character, is mistaken for a violent threat the consequences are dire; in another story, a teen struggles between her upper middle class upbringing and her desire to fully connect with so-called black culture. Thompson-Spires fearlessly shines a light on the simmering tensions and precariousness of black citizenship. Boldly resisting categorization and easy answers, Nafissa Thompson-Spires “has taken the best of what Toni Cade Bambara, Morgan Parker, and Junot Díaz do plus a whole lot of something we’ve never seen in American literature, blended it all us one of the finest short-story collections” (Kiese Laymon, author of Long Division).