Best Ethnic Short Stories (2008)
The boyfriend and I are in search of a new book to read together. We’ve both read The Soloist (and look forward to the movie) and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (we’ll meet the author in March). We walked through the bookstore this weekend and didn’t decide on anything. He claims that I need to make him believe in the selection like I did with the other two. My idea is for us to read a book of short stories. As a matter of fact, I am going to attempt my personal commitment to read one short story a day again. It didn’t work out last time, but try, try again, right?
The start of my final spring semester begins tomorrow. Yes, on Inauguration Day. I can look forward to returning to the literary journal, grumbling through a required sociolinguistics course (I would rather struggle with reading the Old English version of Beowulf, but whatever), and creating a collection of short stories for my master’s thesis. Sigh. So, when you think about it, this desire to read short stories relates to writing stories of my own. I actually reorganized my bookshelves this morning so that I could feature all of my short story anthologies and collections in one general section. Doing so also caused me to reorganize all of my other books too. I’ll spare you the details of my categorization strategy.
As I stared at my short story shelves, I wondered about the short story books and authors that SHOULD be up there. Can anybody help me out with that? Make a suggestion or two? In conjunction with this, I couldn’t help but wonder who produced the best short stories of 2008. You know I googled it. Unfortunately, I found only three books by “ethnic” authors listed on various sites. Here are those books:
Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan – Uwem Akpan’s stunning stories humanize the perils of poverty and violence so piercingly that few readers will feel they’ve ever encountered Africa so immediately. The eight-year-old narrator of “An Ex-Mas Feast” needs only enough money to buy books and pay fees in order to attend school. Even when his twelve-year-old sister takes to the streets to raise these meager funds, his dream can’t be granted. Food comes first. His family lives in a street shanty in Nairobi, Kenya, but their way of both loving and taking advantage of each other strikes a universal chord. In the second of his stories published in a New Yorker special fiction issue, Akpan takes us far beyond what we thought we knew about the tribal conflict in Rwanda. The story is told by a young girl, who, with her little brother, witnesses the worst possible scenario between parents. They are asked to do the previously unimaginable in order to protect their children. This singular collection will also take the reader inside Nigeria, Benin, and Ethiopia, revealing in beautiful prose the harsh consequences for children of life in Africa. Akpan’s voice is a literary miracle, rendering lives of almost unimaginable deprivation and terror into stories that are nothing short of transcendent.
Uwem Akpan was born in the village of Ikot Akpan Eda in southern Nigeria. After studying philosophy and English at Creighton and Gonzaga universities, he studied theology for three years at the Catholic University of East Africa. He was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 2003 and received his MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan in 2006. “My Parents’ Bedroom,” a story from his upcoming short story collection Say You’re One of Them, was one of five short stories by African writers chosen as finalists for The Caine Prize for African Writing. In 2007, Akpan began a teaching assignment at a Jesuit college in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri – From the internationally best-selling, Pulitzer Prize–winning author, a superbly crafted new work of fiction: eight stories—longer and more emotionally complex than any she has yet written—that take us from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand as they enter the lives of sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, friends and lovers. In the stunning title story, Ruma, a young mother in a new city, is visited by her father, who carefully tends the earth of her garden, where he and his grandson form a special bond. But he’s harboring a secret from his daughter, a love affair he’s keeping all to himself. In “A Choice of Accommodations,” a husband’s attempt to turn an old friend’s wedding into a romantic getaway weekend with his wife takes a dark, revealing turn as the party lasts deep into the night. In “Only Goodness,” a sister eager to give her younger brother the perfect childhood she never had is overwhelmed by guilt, anguish, and anger when his alcoholism threatens her family. And in “Hema and Kaushik,” a trio of linked stories—a luminous, intensely compelling elegy of life, death, love, and fate—we follow the lives of a girl and boy who, one winter, share a house in Massachusetts. They travel from innocence to experience on separate, sometimes painful paths, until destiny brings them together again years later in Rome. Unaccustomed Earth is rich with Jhumpa Lahiri’s signature gifts: exquisite prose, emotional wisdom, and subtle renderings of the most intricate workings of the heart and mind. It is a masterful, dazzling work of a writer at the peak of her powers.
Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London and raised in Rhode Island. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the author of two previous books. Her debut collection of stories, Interpreter of Maladies, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award, and The New Yorker Debut of the Year. Her novel The Namesake was a New York Times Notable Book, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, and was selected as one of the best books of the year by USA Today and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Foreigners by Caryl Phillips – From an acclaimed, award-winning novelist comes this brilliant hybrid of reportage, fiction, and historical fact: the stories of three black men whose tragic lives speak resoundingly to the problem of race in British society. With his characteristic grace and forceful prose, Phillips describes the lives of three very different men: Francis Barber, “given” to the 18th-century writer Samuel Johnson, whose friendship with Johnson led to his wretched demise; Randolph Turpin, a boxing champion who ended his life in debt and decrepitude; and David Oluwale, a Nigerian stowaway who arrived in Leeds in 1949 and whose death at the hands of police twenty years later was a wake up call for the entire nation. As Phillips weaves together these three stories, he illuminates the complexities of race relations and social constraints with devastating results.
Caryl Phillips was born in St. Kitts, West Indies. Brought up in England, he has written for television, radio, theater, and film. He is the author of four books of nonfiction and seven novels. His most recent book, Dancing in the Dark, won the 2006 PEN/Beyond Margins Award, and his previous novel, A Distant Shore, won the 2004 Commonwealth Prize. His other awards include the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim fellowship, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Phillips lives in New York.
Please inform me of any short story anthologies or collections that are worthy reads—past and current publications welcome. I’d especially love to know if any African-American authors have released a recent short story collection.
Keep me reading, ya’ll.