Reading Race: Best Fiction of 2015

When it comes to developing a better understanding of race in America, no tweet, speech or blog post can help us to explore complex realities or inspire empathy and understanding with anything like the thoroughness and subtlety of a good novel. 2015 saw the publication of a wealth of fiction exploring racial issues and realities through a rich variety of styles, outlooks and voices, including satire, tragedy and even suspense. Here is a small sampling of the best fiction on race published last year:

The Sellout, by Paul Beatty
When the town of Dickens, California literally drops off the map, a man named Mee hatches a startling scheme to revive its notoriety by promoting segregation and re-instituting slavery. Is that Constitutional? Let’s see what the Supreme Court says. Beatty’s wickedly incisive satire pulls no punches in provoking thought, and laughter.

Delicious Foods, by James Hannaham
After her husband’s murder, Darlene’s descent into crack addition seems destined to end her, until the promise of employment on a mysterious Louisiana plantation resurrects her hopes. But Delicious Foods, Inc., turns out not to be a path to the future but a journey into the past, in the worst way imaginable. A brilliant visceral tale of dreams deferred and destroyed.

Welcome to Braggsville, by T. Geronimo Johnson
A diverse group of idealistic yet misguided Berkeley freshmen decide to stage a “performative intervention” at a Civil War reenactment in a small Southern town, adding a mock lynching to the proceedings. To say things do not go as planned is an understatement. No one is spared from Johnson’s devastating and frequently hilarious send-ups of American folly and presumption in all its guises.

Stand Your Ground, by Victoria Christopher Murray
A 16-year-old African American boy heading to the library with his girlfriend is shot and killed by a white man, who then claims a stand-your-ground defense. Murray delves beneath the surface of these ripped-from-the-headlines events to explore the feelings, thoughts, and spiritual trials of people struggling with an un-rightable wrong.

Grant Park, by Leonard Pitts
White supremacists kidnap a controversial African American journalist as part of a plot to sabotage our nation’s first Black president. In this smart, gripping political thriller, the 2008 election of Barack Obama is juxtaposed with the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., as unresolved issues and unchanged beliefs from the past still haunt us today.

Disgruntled, by Asali Solomon
Coming of age in 1980s Philadelphia as the daughter of a radically afro-centric (yet blindly misogynistic) leader, young Kenya struggles to find herself amidst a welter of competing beliefs, biases and agendas. A deeply personal journey through our society’s persistent cultural and racial contradictions.

Other excellent 2015 fiction dealing with race includes Jam on the Vine, by LaShonda Barnett; The Game of Love and Death, by Martha Brockenbrough; All Involved, by Ryan Gattis; Driving the King, by Ravi Howard; Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee; God Help the Child, by Toni Morrison; The Alphabet of Birds, by S.J. Naudé; The Sacrifice, by Joyce Carol Oates; Out of Darkness, by Ashley Hope Pérez; A Free State, by Tom Piazza; Night at the Fiestas, by Kirstin Valdez Quade; American Copper, by Shann Ray; Prudence, by David Treuer; and Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein. Here’s a list in the catalog with all of the titles here, and here’s our companion post on non-fiction.

Did we miss a favorite 2015 title? Please share it in a comment!

  – Posted by David W.

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