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  • Best African American Fiction
  • Edited by E. Lynn Harris and Gerald Early
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780553385342
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Best African American Fiction


Edited by E. Lynn HarrisAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by E. Lynn Harris and Gerald EarlyAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Gerald Early

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Synopsis|Excerpt|Table of Contents


Introducing the first volume in an exciting new annual anthology featuring the year’s most outstanding fiction by some of today’s finest African American writers.

From stories that depict black life in times gone by to those that address contemporary issues, this inaugural volume gathers the very best recent African American fiction. Created during a period of electrifying political dialogue and cultural, social, and economic change that is sure to captivate the imaginations of writers and readers for years to come, these short stories and novel excerpts explore a rich variety of subjects. But most of all, they represent exceptional artistry.

Here you’ll find work by both established names and up-and-comers, ranging from Walter Dean Myers to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Mat Johnson, and Junot Díaz. They write about subjects as diverse as the complexities of black middle-class life and the challenges of interracial relationships, a modern-day lynching in the South and a young musician’s coming-of-age during the Harlem Renaissance. What unites these stories, whether set in suburbia, in eighteenth-century New York City, or on a Caribbean island that is supposed to be “brown skin paradise,” is their creators’ passionate engagement with matters of the human heart.

Masterful and engaging, this first volume of Best African American Fiction features stories you’ll want to savor, share, and return to again and again.

Please click the "Behind the Book" link for contributor’s bios.

From the Hardcover edition.


From the Introduction

"Over the course of American literary history African Americans tried many times to read, write, and publish their own books as a sign of cultural independence and racial entrepreneurism. In the end, the act of wiring black fiction was both quixotic and heroic. It served black and white readers alike by reminding them that black people wanted to write fiction, for its own sake and because it might empower the race. And it served the nation by reminding everyone that the creation of black literature was an act of freedom. For every new possibility that blacks fulfilled, such as the utterly preposterous one of becoming fiction writers, further possibilities opened for everyone else.

The effort required, however, was daunting.Not until after the Civil War would African American writers become sufficiently practiced in the craft of fiction writing to produce more than one novel or enough short stories to be collected in a volume. But those early writers, unpracticed and frequently unoriginal as they may have been, did much to establish a tradition of black literature. While these literary ancestors did not directly influence black writers who came later, one can appreciate them for a variety of reasons, even just for persevering to get what was in their heads on paper, at a time when society was organized to ensure that they had nothing in their heads and no way of putting anything on paper. For later generations, filiopiety has limits but also satisfies certain necessities of the mind and heart. As the bassist Charles Mingus once put it so succinctly, "Thank god I've got roots!"

My hope for the Best African American Fiction series is that it will show how far African American fiction has come and, more important, how far it extends." ~Gerald Early

"Considering the time and place of my Southern upbringing, it ought to come as no surprise that most of the books I encountered were by white authors. The libraries and schools were full of books by no one else. Not for years would I discover James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, the first book that truly spoke to me. It depicted a world I closely identified with; more than that, it suggested to me for the first time that I might become a writer, that my life as a young African American boy was story worthy of being written.While I can't claim that reading saved my life, books nevertheless profoundly shaped me. They made my dreams bigger.

Being asked to write the introduction for the inaugural volume of Best African American Fiction is therefore a welcome opportunity to me as a reader and an honor to me as an author. It's the perfect chance to get acquainted with some of the best work by the best African American writers being published today. With this volume, whose knockout roster reads like a who's who of contemporary black fiction, it's difficult to know where to begin." ~E. Lynn Harris

From the Hardcover edition.

Table of Contents

Introduction/By Gerald Early, Series Editor
Introduction/By E. Lynn Harris, Guest Editor

Pita Delicious/By ZZ Packer
Albino Crow/By Chris Abani
Orb Weaver/By Emily Raboteau
The Saving Work/By Tiphanie Yanique
Dance for Me/By Amina Gautier
Cell One/By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In the Blink of God’s Eye/By Edward P. Jones
This Kind of Red/By Helen Elaine Lee

Novel Excerpts
Dark Reflections/By Samuel R. Delany
The Great Negro Plot/By Mat Johnson
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao/By Junot Díaz
Man Gone Down/By Michael Thomas

Young Adult Fiction
Excerpt from Feathers/By Jacqueline Woodson
Excerpt from Harlem Summer/By Walter Dean Myers
Excerpt from Elijah of Buxton/By Christopher Paul Curtis
Excerpt from Up for It: A Tale of the Underground/By L.F. Haines

Permissions and Credits
About the Editors

From the Hardcover edition.
E. Lynn Harris|Gerald Early|Author Desktop

About E. Lynn Harris

E. Lynn Harris - Best African American Fiction

Photo © Matthew Jordan Smith

E. Lynn Harris was a ten-time New York Times bestselling author. His work included the memoir What Becomes of the Brokenhearted and the novels, A Love of My Own, Just as I Am, Any Way the Wind Blows (all three of which were named Novel of the Year by the Blackboard African American Bestsellers), I Say a Little Prayer, If This World Were Mine (which won the James Baldwin Award for Literary Excellence), the classic Invisible Life, Just Too Good to Be True, and Basketball Jones. He passed away at the age of 54 in 2009.

About Gerald Early

Gerald Early - Best African American Fiction
Gerald Early, a noted essayist and cultural critic, is a professor of English, African, and African American Studies and American Culture Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of several books, including The Culture of Bruising, which won the 1994 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism.

Author Q&A

Contributors’ Bios: Best African American Fiction


ZZ Packer
is the author of the forthcoming novel The Thousands and the national best-seller Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, a New York Times Notable Book, winner of a Commonwealth Club Fiction Award, an ALEX Award, and a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, Story, Ploughshares, Zoetrope and the Best American Short Stories 2000 and 2004. Her non-fiction has been featured in The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, The American Prospect, Essence, O, The Believer, The Guardian, Salon and The Washington Post Magazine. She is the recipient of a Whiting Award, a Rona Jaffe Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Chris Abani's prose includes Song For Night (Akashic, 2007), The Virgin of Flames (Penguin, 2007), Becoming Abigail (Akashic, 2006), Grace Land (FSG, 2004), and Masters of the Board (Delta, 1985). His poetry collections are Hands Washing Water (Copper Canyon, 2006), Dog Woman (Red Hen, 2004), Daphne's Lot (Red Hen, 2003), and Kalakuta Republic (Saqi, 2001). He is a Professor at the University of California, Riverside and the recipient of the PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, the Prince Claus Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a California Book Award, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, a PEN Beyond the Margins Award & the PEN Hemingway Book Prize.

Emily Raboteau is the author of a novel, The Professor's Daughter. She is at work on a book of creative nonfiction entitled Searching for Zion, about Exodus movements of the African diaspora.

Tiphanie Yanique is review editor with New York University's Calabash. A former Fulbright Scholar, she has received the Mary Grant Charles Award for fiction, the Academy of American Poets Prize, the Tufts University Africana Prize for Creativity, and fellowship residencies with Bread Loaf, Callaloo, Squaw Valley, and the Cropper Foundation for Caribbean Writers. She is the recipient of a 2008 Pushcart Prize, the 2006 Boston Review Fiction Prize, and was the Parks Fellow/Writer-in-Residence at Rice University. Her short story "The Saving Work" was chosen by Margot Livesey for the 2007 Kore Press Short Fiction Award.

Amina Gautier
is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis and Assistant Professor of English at Saint Joseph’s University. More than forty-five of her stories have been published, appearing in Callaloo, Kenyon Review, North American Review, Shenandoah, Southwest Review, Storyquarterly, and Sycamore Review among other places in addition to being anthologized in The Sincerest Form of Flattery: Contemporary Women Writers on Forerunners in Fiction, The Best 20 Years of Notre Dame Review, and New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best, 2008. She has been awarded the William Richey Prize, the Jack Dyer Award, and a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts for her fiction.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Enugu, Nigeria, the fifth of six children to Igbo parents. Chimamanda completed her secondary education at the University of Nigeria’s school, receiving several academic prizes. She went on to study medicine and pharmacy at the University of Nigeria for a year and a half. During this period, she edited The Compass, a magazine run by the University's Catholic medical students. She gained a scholarship to study communication at Drexel University in Philadelphia for two years, and she went on to pursue a degree in communication and political science at Eastern Connecticut State University. At the moment, Chimamanda divides her time between Nigeria and the United States. She was a Hodder fellow at Princeton University during the 2005-2006 academic year and is now pursuing graduate work in the African Studies program at Yale University.

Born in 1951 and raised in Washington, D.C., Edward P. Jones stands as one of the most consistently groundbreaking novelists of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. His richly textured and unflinchingly honest depiction of his character's struggles is as exacting as the early stories of James Joyce. A New York Times bestselling author, Mr. Jones was awarded the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel The Known World.  The novel was also a finalist for the National Book Award.

Helen Elaine Lee
was educated at Harvard College and Harvard Law School, from which she graduated in 1985. Her short stories have appeared in Callaloo, SAGE and several anthologies, including Children of the Night: The Best Short Stories by Black Writers, 1967 to the Present, edited by Gloria Naylor, and Ancestral House: The Black Story in the Americas and Europe, edited by Charles Rowell. Her first novel, The Serpent's Gift, was published in 1994 and her second novel, Water Marked, was published in 1999. She has recently completed the manuscript of her third novel, Life Without about the lives of a group of people who are incarcerated in two neighboring American prisons. Life Without, of which "This Kind of Red" is a part, has been excerpted in Prairie Schooner, Hanging Loose, and Callaloo. Lee is Associate Professor of Fiction Writing in MIT's Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies.

Novel Excerpts

Samuel R. Delany is the winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula awards and one of science fiction's most celebrated authors. Delany began writing in the early 1960s. His 1966 novel Babel-17 established his reputation, and over the next decade he became famous for his provocative futuristic explorations of race and sexual identity in the novels Nova, Dhalgren, and Triton. He has also written frankly about his life as an African-American homosexual, and his non-fiction books include The Motion of Light and Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1957-65 (1988) and Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (Sexual Culture) (1999).

Born and raised in Philly, Mat Johnson grew up in the Germantown and Mount Airy sections of the city. As an adult, he has lived elsewhere. His first novel, Drop, was a B&N Discover Great New Writers selection. His second novel, Hunting in Harlem, won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Johnson was awarded the 2008 James Baldwin USA Fellowship. He has written for a variety of publications, including a stint as a columnist for Time Out-NY. Mat Johnson currently teaches at the University of Houston, Creative Writing Program.

Junot Díaz’s fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The Best American Short Stories. His highly-anticipated first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, was greeted with rapturous reviews, including Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times calling it “a book that decisively establishes him as one of contemporary fiction's most distinctive and irresistible new voices.” Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey, Díaz lives in New York City and is a professor of creative writing at MIT.

Michael Thomas was born and raised in Boston. He received his B.A. from Hunter College and his M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College. He teaches at Hunter College and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Man Gone Down, published in January 2007 by Grove Atlantic, is his first novel.

Young Adult Fiction
Jacqueline Woodson is an award-winning author of children's and young adult books. She received a Newbery Honor in 2006 for Show Way and again in 2008 for Feathers. Her novels Locomotion and Hush were both National Book Award finalists and she is the recipient of three Coretta Scott King Honors as well as the Coretta Scott King Award for her novel Miracle’s Boys. In 2006, she won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults from the Young Adult Library Services Association and in 2008 she received the Virginia Hamilton Award.  Woodson lives with her partner and two young children in Brooklyn, New York.
After serving four years in the army, Walter Dean Myers worked at various jobs and earned a BA from Empire State College. He has been writing full time since 1977. Walter has been writing since childhood and publishing since 1969 when he won the Council on Interracial Books for Children contest which resulted in the publication of his first book for children, Where Does the Day Go?. In addition to the publication of his books, Walter has contributed to educational and literary publications. He has visited schools to speak to children, teachers, librarians, and parents. For three years he led a writing workshop for children in a school in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Christopher Paul Curtis’s writing–and his dedication to it–has been greatly influenced by his family members, particularly his wife, Kaysandra. With grandfathers like Earl “Lefty” Lewis, a Negro Baseball League pitcher, and 1930s bandleader Herman E. Curtis, Sr., of Herman Curtis and the Dusky Devastators of the Depression, it is easy to see why Christopher Paul Curtis was destined to become an entertainer. Christopher Paul Curtis made an outstanding debut in children’s literature with The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963. His second novel, Bud, Not Buddy, is the first book ever to receive both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Author Award.

L.F. Haines is an amateur musician, writer, and editor of the jazzine, Igotrhythmchordchanges. Once a resident of the Midwest, she now lives in Philadelphia.

From the Hardcover edition.



“A treasure trove of discovery…Readers across racial lines will find reason for delight in this debut of what is intended as an annual series.”—Kirkus

“There hasn’t been an anthology of such talented African-American literary figures since Marita Golden’s Gumbo, and the result is a masterful bouquet of literary flowers, some grand, some subtle, but none shrinking…With something for every reader’s taste, this is a collection not to be missed.”—Publishers Weekly

“This engaging collection…shows the incredible range of talent and focus of fiction written by African Americans."—Booklist

"These short stories, excerpts from novels, and thoughtful essays cover a broad range of subjects, experiences and perspectives from many of the best writers working today."—Sacramento Bee

From the Hardcover edition.

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