by Sam Florsheim
Summer 2021 is going to be filled with powerful, challenging, and transportive debuts from a wide collection of diverse writers. Here are five in particular that caught our eye.
Honorée Fanonne Jeffers is a fiction writer, essayist, and 2020 National Book Award-nominated poet who teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Oklahoma. She was born in 1967 and grew up in both Durham, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia.
Her full-length fiction debut, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, follows the life of Ailey Pearl Garfield, a Black girl who embarks on a journey through her family’s past in order to better understand her ancestors and their lives in the deep South, ever since they first arrived from Africa in bondage. In doing so, Ailey is forced to confront and contend with her full heritage, a story of oppression, resistance, and independence.
Praising the book, Jacqueline Woodson, author of Red at the Bone and Another Brooklyn, proclaims, “[I]n Jeffers’ deft hands, the story of race and love in America becomes the great American novel.”
Kelsey McKinney is a reporter and writer living in Washington, D.C. She is co-owner at Defector.com, an employee-owned sports and culture website created by former staffers of Deadspin.
God Spare the Girls, Mckinney’s debut novel,is a story set in northern Texas about two sisters who discover a secret about their father, the head pastor of an evangelical megachurch. The events that follow disrupt their lives entirely, and illustrate the fragile nature of both faith and identity.
Elle Magazine describes the novel as “a tender, aching debut . . . where faith and betrayal are intertwined,” and author Claire Lombardo calls it “A thoughtful and candid meditation on faith, family, and forgiveness . . . a fabulous debut.”
Jennifer Saint is a former English teacher who studied Classical Studies at King’s College, London, and has had a lifelong fascination with Ancient Greek mythology. She is now a full-time author, living in Yorkshire, England, with her husband and two children.
Her debut novel, Ariadne, tells the story of the titular princess and her decision to help Theseus slay the Minatour. Saint’s narrative puts the women of Greek mythology back at the heart of the story and explores the fallout of their actions and the trope of the happy ending.
Culture Fly calls Ariadne “[a] beautiful epic…In a world ruled by temperamental, petulant gods, Ariadne is a shining beacon of female strength and courage—making this a story that’s impossible to forget.”
Monica West is an author born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. While working in publishing, West often participated in writing workshops, both at the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center and at Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop. She later became a high school English teacher in Baltimore and San Francisco. West then went on to receive an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Rona Jaffe Foundation Graduate Fellow.
West’s debut, a coming-of-age novel titled Revival Season, explores the complicated nature of family and faith. In the story, fifteen-year-old Miriam Horton and her family travel through the South in an old minivan for “revival season,” when Miriam’s father holds healing services for those desperate to be cured of various ailments and diseases. After one service, Miriam witnesses a shocking act of violence that shakes her to her core.
Ann Patchett, award-winning author of Bel Canto, writes that Revival Season is “[t]ender and wise… an [exploration of] a girl’s faith in both her family and in God. Monica West’s formidable talent is matched by her generosity of spirit…”
Brian Broome is a poet and screenwriter currently teaching at the University of Pittsburgh, where he is also pursuing an MFA. Broome won the grand prize in Carnegie Mellon University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards, as well as a Robert L. Vann Award for journalism from the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation in 2019.
Punch Me Up to the Gods is a coming-of-age memoir featuring essays about blackness, masculinity, and addiction framed around Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem “We Real Cool.” Broome’s debut tracks his experiences growing up in Ohio as an outsider, and Broome’s writing expresses vulnerability and powerful honesty about the experience of growing up as a Black boy in America.
Sapphire, acclaimed author of Push, describes the novel as “a pain-filled tour de force of incredible beauty. The writing is as exquisite as the story is at times horrific. A true work of art.”
Sam Florsheim is a writer currently living in Brooklyn.