We all love an intriguing novel to read on a rainy day. Maybe a novella to take under the covers before bed is more your style. Short stories are a great way to get in a read when we can’t settle in for a long period. The outstanding short story collections below only show one small corner of those written by Black women authors!
N. K. Jemisin
First, let’s kick things off with How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin. She’s not just any author — she’s a Hugo Award winning author. This is her first collection of short stories and it hits on themes from social justice to post-apocalyptic worlds and alternative histories. The characters are diverse, complex, and authentic.
The collection is a nod to the Afrofuturism movement; it imagines a future where arts, science, and technology are seen through a Black lens. Jemisin paints a picture of a diverse future and issues of representation in science fiction. She’s not afraid to delve into societal issues like race, gender, power, and class.
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw is a short story collection that is considered literary fiction. This type of fiction focuses on style and character development. It favors introspective themes over the plot itself.
Deesha Philyaw explores the complex lives of Black women, their relationships, and their experiences within the church community. Common themes include love, desire, spirituality, and societal expectations. The human experience and its complexities and contradictions are highlighted, especially as they relate to religion and familial relationships. The characters are impactful as they deal with the same moral dilemmas that real people do.
Its many awards include the 2020 National Book Award, the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and the Story Prize in 2020.
Lesley Nneka Arimah
What Happens When a Man Falls from the Sky offers a look at the lives of women and girls. They are transformative narratives that deal with pain and trauma. Themes include family, friends, conflict, and loss. Animah’s stories are intercontinental and cover a broad range of time periods.
The titular story is one of my favorites. Its futuristic narrative involves a formula created by mathematicians that eradicates grief from people’s lives. However, they soon realize the catastrophic consequences of trying to control human emotions.
Awards include the 2017 Kirkus Prize for Fiction, the 2018 New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award, and the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa.
Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self is Danielle’s debut collection. It explores the complexities of African American life and focuses on young people navigating various challenges. Evans’ narratives depict characters who are immensely relatable as they grapple with significant decisions. They must also maneuver through difficult situations that reflect on wider societal issues.
This collection of short stories uses themes of family, relationships, race, gender, and self-identity. It received the PEN American Robert W. Bingham Prize and co-winner of the 2011 Peterson Fiction Prize.
Here’s another great collection! Heads of the Colored People employs sharp wit, commentary on contemporary issues, and memorable characterizations. These stories offer insight and satirical glimpses into the lives of middle-class Black America. Thompson-Spires explores several themes including identity, mental health, and body image. She also approaches the cultural and societal dynamics of the African American community. The stories in the collection stand on their own, but Nafissa gives recurring roles to many characters creating a strong continuity and interconnectedness.
Heads of the Colored People won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction. It has also been long-listed for the 2018 National Book Award, the 2019 Aspen Words Literary Prize, and was a finalist for the 2019 PEN Open Book Award.
For her debut, ZZ Packer compiled a collection of short stories entitled Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. Her stories portray young African American women in a nuanced and empathetic manner. This collection presents characters who have to navigate societal structures and expectations, especially those that relate to race, gender, and identity. It approaches themes like racism, faith, freedom, and the painful process of finding yourself.
“Packer”, a short story in Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, was selected for placement in the prestigious Best American Short Stories of the Century. The collection was a finalist the PEN/Faulkner Award and a New York Times Notable Book.
The collection Bloodchild and Other Stories includes some of the most famous short works written by Octavia Butler. It is a compilation of essays and short fiction. Her stories explore power dynamics, symbiotic relationships, and body autonomy. The titular short, “Bloodchild”, depicts a world where human refugees are protected on an alien planet. However, they must pay a heavy price: human males must bear the offspring of the alien race, which is deadly and dangerous.
Butler’s collection has won many awards. They include a Hugo Award for Best Novelette and a Nebula Award for Best Novelette. “Speech Sounds” has also won a Hugh Award for Best Short Story.
As you can see, short story collections can cover a wide range of themes. There are so many amazing collections available. This is just a small sample. I can’t wait to jump in and start reading more!
Want more fiction by Black authors? Click here!
Interested in writing your own short stories? Find it here!