As 2023 comes to a close, we’re looking back on all of the best books of the year, including work from debut authors. These eight authors delivered some of the most memorable books of the year, so you won’t want to miss adding their work to your 2024 TBR. From fiction to nonfiction and poetry, this list has every kind of literature you could want. Keep reading for more information on why we loved these 2023 debut authors and their books!
1. Timmy Straw
Timmy Straw is a poet, musician, translator, and recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Their debut poetry collection, The Thomas Salto, explores the AIDS epidemic, the Soviet collapse, the war on drugs, and U.S. proxy wars through the lens of a dangerous gymnastics move popularized during the Cold War called the Thomas Salto.
Has our species ever been more in need of new ways of thinking through our relation to the real, to the simulated, to each other? With a visionary attention to the lived sensorium of the present and its historical givens, The Thomas Salto reveals a brilliantly nuanced view of individual agency in the age of falling empires. If the future is survivable, this is what its poetry sounds like.Elizabeth Willis, author of Meteroic Flowers
2. Ruth J. Simmons
Ruth J. Simmons is the former vice provost of Princeton and the former president of Smith College, Brown University, and Prairie View A&M University, Texas’s oldest HBCU. Her memoir, Up Home: One Girl’s Journey, tells the inspiring story of Simmons’ journey from Jim Crow Texas to serving as the first Black president of an Ivy League university and beyond.
A story of dreaming and becoming, of breaking out of what is supposed to be and discovering what can be. Up Home is far more than a record of the path to success of one of the truly great college presidents in the history of American education; it is a riveting work of literature, destined to take its place in the canon of great African American autobiographies. Simmons’s best friend and confidante, Toni Morrison, would be proud!Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University
3. Cat Bohannon
Cat Bohannon is an author and researcher with a Ph.D. in the evolution of narrative and cognition from Columbia University. Her debut book, Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution, is a fascinating and illuminating account of human evolution that offers new perspectives on the female body.
For over a century and a half since Darwin, we have talked about the origin of man. But what about women? Marshaling considerable wit, scholarship, and cutting edge science Cat Bohannon traces the history and importance of female biology and, in the process, gives us a refreshing new view on the origin of humanity.Neil Shubin, University of Chicago biologist and author of Your Inner Fish
Polly Stewart is an author whose essays have appeared in Poets & Writers and the New York Times, among other publications. Her debut novel, The Good Ones, is a captivating work of literary suspense that explores the nuances of female friendships and the price of following the rules that govern womanhood.
A riveting, unflinching exploration of adolescent female friendships, small-town pressures to conform, and the true crime lover’s tendency to conflate empathy and voyeurism, The Good Ones drew me in from the first lines and still hasn’t released me, days after finishing.Katie Guiterrez, nationally bestselling author of More Than You’ll Ever Know
Rachel Cochran is an author of short stories and creative nonfiction and a teacher of writing, editing, and publishing at Marian University. Her debut novel, The Gulf, is a literary thriller about a closeted young woman trying to solve her mother’s murder in a close-knit, religious Texas town in the 1970s.
Haunting, transfixing, beware to anyone who interrupts you while you’re reading it. The Gulf is a rare jewel of a novel that works as an intricate murder mystery and a harrowing plunge into the racial and sexual politics of a struggling Gulf Coast town. Rachel Cochran creates such vivid atmosphere, you swear you’re breathing the secrets trapped in the Parson, Texas air. A thriller with a beating heart.Christopher Bollen, author of The Lost Americans
6. Priya Guns
Priya Guns is an actor and writer with work published in Spring magazine, gal-dem, The Guardian, and various short story anthologies. Her debut novel, Your Driver Is Waiting, is a dark comedy and social satire about a rideshare driver who does something unforgivable to achieve the financial security and love she’s always wanted.
Your Driver Is Waiting is an ambitious project, taking on performative allyship, racial discrimination and the class system all at once…The novel’s greatest strength [is] a ferocity of voice that belongs to Guns alone…What you are about to read is a call to arms. Best to prepare for a confrontation.Camille Perri, New York Times Book Review
7. Marisa Crane
Marisa Crane is a basketball player and writer whose work has appeared in Catapult, Lit Hub, Joyland, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Their debut book, I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself, is a lyrical, speculative novel about a queer mother trying to raise her newborn daughter alone in a corrupt surveillance state.
Marisa Crane’s I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself is a delicious novel of ideas that made me consider justice, grief, desire, and friendship. It also made me laugh out loud. Crane’s blend of grief, humor, and imagination is fearless. They have a rollercoaster of an imagination — this is an exciting debut and the start of a promising career.Megan Giddings, author of Lakewood and The Women Could Fly
8. Yume Kitasei
Yume Kitasei is a Japanese and American writer of speculative fiction whose stories have been published in Catapult, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Baltimore Review, and other publications. Her debut novel, The Deep Sky, is an entrancing science fiction thriller about a deadly deep space mission that will determine the fate of humanity.
The Deep Sky is a beautiful tightly-wound mystery. It is both an intimate character portrait and a thriller. The space geek in me loves the way the voyage feels like a completely plausible extension of our current billionaire-fueled space race.Mary Robinette Kowal, author of The Calculating Stars
For even more amazing 2023 debut authors, click here.
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