10 Short Story Collections by Black Women
by Joanna Webley-Brown
Reading marginalised voices offers a nuanced view of the world; reading a collection of these stories – 15 pages of miniature universes – offers up something even more special. From Uganda, Haiti and Jamaica, to Nigeria and Ancient Egypt, here is a list of 10 exceptional short story collections written by Black women.
In no particular order:
Love in Colour, Bolu Babalola
A short story collection on Black love and joy? Yes please. Bolu Babalola takes ancient love stories and folktales from all over the world and revitalises them with new-age concerns, humour and strong female protagonists. This is a book that will leave you with a smile on your face.
The Pain Tree, Olive Senior
Olive Senior’s The Pain Tree is an exploration of Jamaican life. The characters are rich and poor, urban and rural, and their lives are written in an intimately rich tone that will make you laugh, cry and root for the glimmers of hope and transformation that Senior artfully scatters throughout each story.
Manchester Happened, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
Manchester Happened is a powerful collection exploring the Ugandan diaspora experience. With half the book is set in Manchester and half back in Uganda, Makumbi explores the lives of immigrants in Britain and of those who have, for a kaleidoscope of reasons, returned home. It is book steeped in humour and love, but also racism and heartbreak. A must-read.
How Long 'Til Black Future Month? N. K. Jemisin
From monsters in New Orleans to robotic politicians, the stories in How Long 'til Black Future Month? are otherworldly, bold, but steeped in the universal desire for racial justice and compassion. This is a sci-fi short story collection like no other.
Heads of the Coloured People, Nafissa Thompson-Spires
From tales of a narcissistic woman contemplating suicide for Facebook likes, to a funeral singer struggling to cope with the number of black men lost to gun violence – Thompson-Spires’ politically charged debut demands readers to examine the class tensions and racial violence afflicted on the Black body, as well as the precariousness of identity. The stories are satirical, darkly poignant and will leave you giddy.
Nudibranch, Irenosen Okojie
Nudibranch comes from what Irenosen Okojie calls an innate ‘place of curiosity’ and curious it is, as well unique and utterly bizarre; her surrealist collection deforms time, the body and genre with ease. Okojie’s ability to make the unbelievable, believable through wordplay is a true feat. Fans of Helen Oyeymi and Carmen Maria Machado would devour this collection.
Ayiti, Roxane Gay
Vibrant and stirring, the stories of Haiti or Ayiti (its name in Haitian Creole) depict the beauty and resilience of Gay’s motherland. While race, sexuality and gendered violence are intersecting themes, the tightest focus is nationhood – what it means to Haitian, a child of the diaspora, and to yearn for, yet hate, home. One of my 2020 top reads, this is a nuanced and stunning read.
Zikora, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Perhaps this is cheating as it’s not yet released and is a stand-alone short story, but this Adichie’s first piece of fiction in seven years so it had to feature! A Nigerian lawyer finds herself abandoned by her successful partner after learning that she’s pregnant. If Adichie’s previous short story collection is anything to go by, I expect Zikora to be written with an emotive and delicate hand.
Frying Plantain, Zalika Reid-Benta
Reid-Benta’s emotive debut is a must-read for those new to the short story genre; the sharp prose eases you in and reads like a series of interconnected narratives. Set in Toronto’s Little Jamaica, we follow Kara across a series of life moments where she tackles intergenerational pressures, class, and conflating her Black identity into white spaces. A moving coming-of-age collection.
Happiness, Like Water, Chinelo Okparanta
Okparanta’s debut collection follows the lives of Nigerian women at home and in America. Thematically rich, the stories touch on LGBTQ+ relationships, homophobia, infertility and domestic abuse – to name a few. Happiness, Like Water is a contemporary portrait of womanhood that will stay with you for a long time.