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Heads of the Colored People

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  5,929 ratings  ·  945 reviews
Calling to mind the best works of Paul Beatty and Junot Díaz, this collection of moving, timely, and darkly funny stories examines the concept of black identity in this so-called post-racial era.

A stunning new talent in literary fiction, Nafissa Thompson-Spires grapples with black identity and the contemporary middle class in these compelling, boundary-pushing vignettes.

Hardcover, 209 pages
Published August 9th 2018 by Chatto & Windus (first published April 10th 2018)
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Average rating 4.13  · 
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 ·  5,929 ratings  ·  945 reviews

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Nov 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is a lot going on in this excellent short story collection. Each story examines the black middle class experience. Many of the works border on satire but not because sometimes the absurdity of being black in this world feels unreal even though it is painfully real. Lots of interesting commentary on navigating the digital age and being a person. This book is imaginative, intelligent, witty, and run through with pain. Well worth reading.
Finally in 2018 I have read a book that knocked my socks off!! Last year I got a hold of Skin Folk, The Refugees, and What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky and I became a huge fan of the well-written short form. This one operates on a whole "notha" level. Thompson-Spires operates in the head. Heads of the Colored People is about what is going on in the heads of the characters. It reminded me of Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? but Thompson-Spires goes much more deeply into the psyche ...more
Elyse  Walters
Oct 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
These stories have energy- wit - are inventive- disarmingly tender - at times very funny - and they are each utterly engrossing!!!

I had a couple of favorites - “Belles Letters”, and “This Todd”, being a couple standouts, but there is not one boring short story in this collection.
The title short story, “Heads of the Colored People”, is compelling and leaves a punch as well.

If you think this book is dry - and seriously heavy - you’d be wrong. Very entertaining reading.

Think contemporary middle c
Nov 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

The title of this book is taken from the 19th-century vignettes entitled, “Heads of the Colored People, Done With a Whitewash Brush” by the African-American physician and abolitionist, James McCune Smith. Smith's sketches centered on ten different people identified by trade - the point being that these people bootstrapped from slavery to working-class through their labor, integrity, and thrift.

James McCune Smith

Rather than the working class, Nafissa Thompson-Spires focuses her book on the black
Jul 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I knew I would enjoy this pretty much from the first page on. Nafissa Thompson-Spires has a wonderful tone and an even better command of her stories. I found the stories uncomfortable and biting and so very very clever. Her characters feel real if often difficult and the situations they find themselves in are frustrating and perfectly rendered.

Some stories feature the same people again, which is something I always enjoy. I do like how this gave the stories more depth without them being incomplet
Oct 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-favorites
I'm ready for a preorder link to Nafissa Thompson-Spires next book! Whenever that will be.
Apr 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-reads
I’m pretty sure this book is 4.5-5 stars, but we all know how I like to change my ratings from week to week. :) In just under 200 pages, Heads of the Colored People microscopes the inner workings of some hilarious and troubled black characters. I think my favorite stories are in the middle of the collection, an interconnected set of tales about grating Jack & Jill mothers, and the insecure daughters they produce. These women are self-absorbed, vegan, mundane, vapid, and about ten other traits bl ...more
Oct 03, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-nba, usa, 2018-read
This debut collection of short stories is fighting the perception of colored people as a monolithic group by showing its black protagonists in a variety of different roles and contexts - as fans of cosplay, as helicopter mums, as stalkers and their victims, as women struggling with body image issues, as bullies and victims of bullying and so on.

A key to understanding the author's aim is the story entitled "A Conversation about Bread", in which one of the characters tries to finish an ethnograph
3.5 stars

A bold and original short story collection that examines the black middle class experience in ways unseen before in literature. I loved how innovative the premise of each story felt, ranging from two mothers who exchange mean remarks through notes in their children’s backpacks, to a narcissistic young woman contemplating how to craft the perfect Facebook status to alert people of her impending suicide, to a woman with few friends who sees a therapist for the first time and struggles to
Read By RodKelly
What an utterly original collection! This may be the best short story collection I've ever read, it spoke directly to me, about things I've never seen represented in literature, as it concerns the lives of Black people in America. ...more
Sep 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
National Book Award Longlist 2018. Thompson-Spires has written a startlingly original set of short stories. They are bold, moving and often darkly humorous. Some, like ‘Four Fancy Sketches, Two Chalk Outlines, and No Apology’ speak directly to the black experience—it reflects “the constants—unarmed men, excessive force, another dead body, another dead body”.

Other stories like “The Necessary Changes Have Been Made” are more universal. This one is more of an “Office Space” chronicle where Randolph
La Tonya  Jordan
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to La Tonya by: Go On Girls! Book Club
Shelves: good-read
This is a fabulous read. It is humorous, poignant, and worthwhile. The collection of short stories contained the following and more: A story of upper middle class black women with PhD's trading notes through their girls' backpacks on who is more unruly in an all-white prestigious school. Their daughters were the only two black individuals in the entire school. The young adult thinking of suicide and posting on facebook while casually changing her mind in the process. A black woman having a fetis ...more
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although my initial reaction to this collection of stories was blasé, upon futher contemplation I went to four stars. The collection is centered on Black identity and the heaping of satire is heavy here and the humor is plentiful. The story Belles Lettres, which has two mothers exchanging notes through their daughters backpacks is side-splitting funny. Be careful reading in public, lest folks think you a little off for laughing loud alone with a book or tablet. That story for me was the highligh ...more
Jul 08, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I recognize the author's talent, I had a hard time emotionally connecting & resonating with the characters. I was more in awe of the uniqueness of the stories than engaged with the writing. There were a few stories that I loved, but most felt detached. ...more
Jessica Sullivan
Okay, wow. This is a phenomenal collection about people struggling to forge a sense of identity in a modern world. The characters are all black, and so the topic of black identity (and black bodies) is front and center.

The subjects are all contemporary, a mix of cutting satire and poignant realism: the two mothers exchanging passive aggressive notes via their daughters, a family of new age fruititarians filming a reality show, a high school girl who records ASMR videos, a narcissistic woman con
Allison Hurd
These were interesting and uncomfortable stories about the heads of people of color, specifically Black people. As the author says in her note, this is not just what goes on inside the heads of Black people--mental illness, anger, fear, confusion--but also what Black leadership looks like, and even the sociopolitics of the head itself--wigs or natural? Better seen or unseen? I appreciated the look into the questions, but ultimately felt a bit like a voyeur.

CONTENT WARNING: (view spoiler)
Monica Kim: Reader in Emerald City
America has had its first black baseball player, its first black astronaut, its first black president — but after the firsts, the world is still full of onlies. Sometimes the only-ness is existential — like the only black student in a private school. Sometimes it's incidental — the only black woman in an hour-long yoga class — because you are sort of a representative of what people see as black, by virtue of them not having had much exposure to it, there are all these additional pressures on top ...more
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
it seems to me that thompson-spires does something different here. i saw just today an article about how african american intellectuals (say, baldwin) could have talked (and still could talk) about all sorts of things but ended up invariably talking to white people about racism. which, if you think about it, is a tremendous waste of intellectual power. one can only imagine the wealth of ideas baldwin could have put on paper if he hadn't had to worry about racism (even more ideas! from balwin! sw ...more
Jan 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A powerful collection of short stories. Each story, even the short-short ones, creates a world within the socio-political world in which we live. There are many funny ones and funny moments in the more serious one but almost all carry the seriousness of the times we live in.

The first story is perhaps the strongest, with its many layers. I can't describe it without giving away details but there is the "meta" consciousness of the narrator, the quickly sketched yet fully developed characters and th
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
From the NBA longlist - a look at black identity in America, especially the black middle class. Many of the stories look at people who don’t fit into the standard black identity - they like manga, have a white SO, talk differently - and how they are often judged by others in the black community. Many of these stories are quite funny, but they have serious undertones about contemporary issues, such as the frequent killings of unarmed black men.
Katie Long
Oct 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another solid choice from the National Book Award long list. A collection of short stories that examines middle class Black American lives. Thompson-Spires shows a wickedly dark sense of humor in many of these stories and an aching poignancy in others. The last story, especially, shattered me.
Utterly addictive

I kept seeing The Heads of the Colored People on my bookstagram timeline, to the point where I felt like it was haunting me. I finally decided to give this book a read and man.... I am so happy I did. I devoured this book. If I had to describe this book in one word it would be addictive. When I wasn't reading the book, I was thinking about reading the book. This might just be one of my favorite collection of short stories for this year.

Every story is unique, captivating, dar
Traci at The Stacks
I liked this book. Short stories about black folks. Funny at times. Thought provoking at times. A place for blackness without having to do with extreme poverty, violence, trauma. Solid debut.
Well-written short stories, with razor-sharp pictures of middle-class expectations intersecting with race, family, friendships, employment, and police. The analyses are in some cases bitingly funny with deeply sad or somewhat disturbing undercurrents.
My favourite stories were:
-Heads of the Colored People: Four Fancy Sketches, Two Chalk Outlines, and No Apology
-Belle Lettres
-Fatima, The Biloquist: A Transformation Story
-The Subject of Consumption
-Suicide, Watch
-Wash Clean the Bones
I listened to
Paris (parisperusing)
4.5 thoughts to come
Jun 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are books that leave me wondering “what the heck did I just read?” Heads of the Colored People is most certainly that type of book.

It’s a collection of short stories centering on the black experience, as it relates to the individual, with environmental and social factors acting as the intrusion, as opposed to the catalyst, to their overall well-being.

I finished it, with mixed emotions, and then almost gave it a much lower rating.

However, after thinking on it a bit, and really digesting t
Abbie | ab_reads
You know when you read a short story collection on the recommendation of Tasnim @reads.and.reveries, the short story queen, that it's going to be a good one! I waited patiently for my library to reopen to get this collection out, and it was more than worth the wait. I read an article with Nafissa Thompson-Spires where she said that she wanted to write more stories about nerdy Black people - she does that and more with this collection. These 12 stories feature a myriad of Black folk, from exhaust ...more
Jul 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Centering around the foibles, pretentions and microagressions of Black middle class people, this collection of 12 stories was one knockout after another. These people and their stories are largely-but not always--set right on the border between funny/scathing social critique and true damage. On the funnier side, we have battling PhD moms of the only two black girls in a private school class, fought through increasingly gloves-off notes put in the children's backpacks; the professor embroiled in ...more
May 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A couple of the stories fell flat but I hadn't seen such a sharp dissection of black people in academia before. Thompson-Spires writing has a wicked humor but tenderness for all of her characters, which she builds by showing us the characters over a long period of time. Belles Lettres had me *dying.* A really powerful collection that explores what's really in our "heads"—what demons, ghosts, hopes, failure, and loves reside there. ...more
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
I have read these stories over the last few days and honestly I’m struggling to remember more than a general outline of most of them.
The author does have a great dark sense of humour - “Suicide, Watch” was the most memorable because of this.
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Literary Fiction ...: Discussion: Heads Of The Colored People 79 194 Aug 14, 2020 08:00PM  
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Nafissa Thompson-Spires 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, and The Feminist Wire, among other publications. She was a 2016 fellow of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop.

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