Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Books Anna Stein, +1 212 556 5600 Email Anna Stein

Heads of the Colored People

book | Fiction | 2018
US & Canada → Atria (Ed. Dawn Davis)
UK → Chatto & Windus (Ed. Clara Farmer)
1991-2016: Post-racial Stories 

  • Winner of the LA Times Book Prize for First Fiction 2019
  • Winner of PEN Open Book Award 2019
  • Winner of Audie Awards 2019 for Short Stories/Collections
  • Nominated for the Whiting Awards 2019
  • Longlisted for The Story Prize 2019
  • Nominated for NAACP Image Awards
  • Longlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction 2018
  • Finalist for the Kirkus Prize 2018
  • Longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize 2018

A compendium of brilliant and timely sketches that grapple with contemporary middle-class black life in our alleged “post-racial” era. The collection is a moving and sometimes very funny examination of black identities that resist categorization and truisms.

Thematically, the collection draws inspiration from three 19th century black writers and scholars, who have mostly been lost to history, and who used literary sketches to envision what recently emancipated, black citizenship might look like. Thompson-Spires’s stories reveal the lingering complications of black citizenship, and its persistent tensions and vulnerabilities. In Heads of the Colored People African-Americans are the oppressors just as often as they are the oppressed, and their problems are often those of relative privilege. The stories are exquisitely rendered, satirical, witty, thought-provoking and captivating in turn, and I’m honored to present Thompson-Spires as a necessary and original literary voice. 

Bringing to mind the work of male writers like Junot Diaz, Kiese Laymon, and Mat Johnson, Nafissa Thompson-Spires also engages in the ongoing conversations about race and identity politics, as well as the vulnerability of the black body, which have been brought to the forefront by Claudia Rankine and Ta-Nahisi Coates.


Claire Nozieres manages the translation rights for Heads of the Colored People

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Edizioni Black Coffee

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 skepticism towards human nature and intense fondness of it. Located on the big questions, they are full of heart.

George Saunders

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

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

Kelly Link

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

Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires is 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

Nafissa Thompson-Spires has taken the best of what Toni Cade Bambara, Paul Beatty, Morgan Parker and Junot Diaz do plus a whole lot of something we've never seen in American literature, blended it all together and giving 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

Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ debut short story collection humorously explores black citizenship in our supposed postracial time. While the stories consider such weighted topics as suicide, grief, and gun violence, its tone can range from satirical to poignant.

AV Club

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

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

We need a new word for this story collection. Dark humor isn’t quite it. But it’s close. It’s dark; it’s funny; but it’s kind, too.

Tayari Jones

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

A bold new voice, at once insolently sardonic and incisively compassionate, asserts itself amid a surging wave of young African-American fiction writers.

Kirkus Reviews

It surprised me that I was writing about so many more aspects of blackness than I thought I ever would - about physical trauma, chronic Illness, and death . Those are all things I never thought I would pursue because I found them too depressing as a reader, and so I set out to write what I thought was lighthearted and ended up doing the thing that I was trying to avoid. But I don't regret that - I think that those were the stories I needed to tell. 

Diane Patrick
Publishers Weekly

The stories in Heads of the Colored People bring layer after layer of awe, humor, style, and vividness. All of that comes as Nafissa Thompson-Spires finds new and distinct angles to show the contours of each story’s world. On the bus. At the DMV. On social media. The fine details and the narrative style show the minds, bodies, and circumstances of an evocative mixture of folks. There’s so much to recommend here, from the commentary to the line, where these sentences build feelings, rooms, and the people we find there. The fidelity of the voices comes through in a way that makes Nafissa Thompson-Spires work stay with you.

Ravi Howard

Darkly humorous and incredibly moving, Heads of the Colored People is a wonderful collection of short stories that tackles what it means to be black in a world that thinks it's "post-racial." (Spoiler alert: It's not.) The book couldn't be more timely — and even the stories that seem lighthearted on the surface are, at their center, incredibly intelligent reflections on race, identity, and blackness. Nafissa Thompson-Spires has written a masterpiece.

Gina Mei

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.


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.

The Riveter

The focus on blackness in this debut collection of stories may be the least interesting thing about it. Or rather, what’s interesting is the use Nafissa Thompson-Spires makes of race—as a plot driver, irony engine, and comic goad—in the self-aware manner of Paul Beatty and others.

New York Magazine

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 for spring.


[A] striking debut collection… By turns hilarious, charming, ingenious, and heartbreaking, Thompson-Spires’ debut is well worth checking out.

Lit Hub

One phenomenal short story collection … If you're on the hunt for a short story collection this week, let this be it. Nafissa Thompson-Spires is making her presence known with utterly unique characters and a wicked sense of humor all of her own in this collection about the complexities and realities of black culture


Today is the first day of the Nafissa Thompson-Spires era … she is going to be one of the most well regarded authors to ever have lived here. She will be famous. And it will be well deserved. Because we are basically all living next door to one of the most talented young authors in the world right now … This kind of talent isn't something that just accidentally appears. It is crafted, and it is practiced, and it is honed, and it is worthy of reverence. Three cheers for all of this. Three cheers, indeed. 

Seth Fein

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 humor, provocation and deep reflection about cultural signifiers. 

John Williams
The New York Times

Nafissa Thompson-Spires' new story collection is full of characters coping with being not just black in a white world — but the only black person in their worlds. She says that's a hard role to fill.

National Public Radio

A brilliant debut ... that illustrates the pain and anguish that plagues the black community, both externally and internally … The stories are bold, realistic, full of passion and transformation for both the characters and the readers. 

Maria Ferrer
RT Book Reviews

An unforgettable debut that examines black identity in boundary-pushing new ways. 


Thompson-Spires' dazzling collection of short fiction addresses black identity in the so-called post-racial era ... Transgressive and wildly funny, Heads announces a major new talent.  

Ms. Magazine

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 and Junot Diaz, this debut audaciously tackles race and identity politics. 

Rabbea Saleem
Chicago Review of Books

Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ exquisitely original Heads of the Colored People is fresh, inventive and sure not to disappoint. Each short story starts in the familiar and then leads to unexpected and compelling revelations. 

Hope Wabuke
The Root

A writer to watch … Extraordinarily powerful. Thompson-Spires distinguishes her work by keeping explicit violence off the page and focusing on raw grief, pushing her readers to confront the senselessness based solely on the strength of her voice and her characters … Eloquent, funny, forceful and occasionally shocking.

Cory Oldweiler

Thompson-Spires’ debut delves into the lives of contemporary black women in witty, up-to-the-minute social satires featuring YouTubers, anime cosplayers, and people who eat only fruit.

B&N Reads

With comparisons to the work of Paul Beatty and Junot Díaz, Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ debut short story collection humorously explores black citizenship in our supposed postracial time. While the stories consider such weighted topics as suicide, grief, and gun violence, its tone can range from satirical to poignant.

The AV Club

Don’t miss this short story collection centered on Black culture and identity. One minute, Nafissa Thompson-Spires will have you laughing uncontrollably at her zany characters. And the next, she’ll have you thinking seriously about mental illness. Heads of the Colored People: Stories is an unforgettable debut.


Nafissa Thompson-Spires shows off her versatility and fresh talent in her collection Heads of the Colored People, which explores conversations about contemporary black identity with sharp satire with a wide variety of stories ... Some will make you laugh out loud, others will move you, and through it all you'll marvel at how unique, urgent, and fearless the whole collection is.

Jarry Lee

This new collection of short stories thoughtfully addresses race and will take readers into the lives of characters who are discovering how they fit into the world around them.


The stories in this sardonic collection about black identity range from the antics of passive-aggressive officemates to a tragic episode of street violence to a hilarious exchange of notes between the mothers of two classmates, transported in their daughters’ backpacks. 

Switch Your Mood

Nafissa Thompson-Spires’s superbly witty debut ... takes its title from the work of a 19th-century abolitionist. The topics she takes on are often deadly serious ... but every story flashes grim humor. She is also a brutally sharp observer. 

The New York Times
17 Refreshing Books to Read This Summer

Thompson-Spires fearlessly shines a light on the simmering tensions and precariousness of black citizenship. Her stories are exquisitely rendered, satirical, and captivating in turn, engaging in the ongoing conversations about race and identity politics, as well as the vulnerability of the black body.

The Rumpus

[Thompson-Spires'] electric style is extrovert, erudite and hugely entertaining ... you end the collection greedy to read whatever is coming next from this unmistakable talent. 

Anthony Cummins
The Guardian

Thompson-Spires’ stories are dark, have a cutting sense of humour, and are entertaining and essential. 

Sarah Shaffi

Composed entirely of letters of escalating spite, the point-scoring of the two PhD-boasting women is told with delicious brutality.

Colin Grant
The Guardian

Nafissa Thompson-Spires's short story collection, a nominee for the National Book Awards, is a revelation. In a series of bitingly funny stories, Thompson-Spires writes of blackness, of class, of identity, and more, and weaves together some damn entertaining tales in the process.

30 Best Fiction Books of 2018

Thompson-Spires repeatedly confronts the insufficiency of art to rectify the trauma caused by racism, and plays with the asymmetric yet universal roles of audience, creator and subject. Her pitch-perfect prose makes her explorations of race, class, gender and self-presentation sing.

The Huffington Post
The Best Fiction of 2018

Thompson-Spires brilliantly delves into the concept of black identity in modern times in Heads of the Colored People, a collection that echoes the power of Junot Díaz and cements her role as an incredibly important voice in literature right now.

Every Incredible Book We Recommended You Read in 2018

Smart, witty, and so very well written.

Roxane Gay

Thompson Spires' beautiful and gut-punching lines have the power to incite cultural conversations about troubling times, while leaving a reader hopeful.


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 how you see things.

Candice Carty-Williams
Author of Queenie

Anna Stein
+1 212 556 5600
Email Anna Stein
Translation Rights
Claire Nozieres
+44 (0)20 7393 4425
Email Claire Nozieres