One of the most fulfilling prospects of being a writer is publishing your first work. For those who can relate, when I was an English undergrad, nothing excited me more than knowing that people might actually want to read, let alone buy, my work one day.
I am always on the prowl for a great new book to read, and so it’s always a delight to find a book by first-timers—these little discoveries have been the ray of light and silver lining of hope in my tunneled life as a freelancer over the years.
For this month’s You Oughta Read debuts, we look at three fresh new faces hitting the lit scene.
Terese Marie Mailhot, Heart Berries
Terese Mailhot is an alum of the Institute of American Indian Arts, the Saturday Editor at The Rumpus, and an Indian Country Today columnist who has bylines with publications like Carve Magazine, Yellow Medicine Review and elsewhere. Mailhot is also the recipient of myriad fellowships, including the Vermont Studio Center Fellowship, Writing by Writers Fellowship, and the Elk Writer’s Workshop Fellowship.
Heart Berries, in a nutshell: Part coming-of-age, part diary, Mailhot travels back to her tough coming-of-age on the Seabird Island reservation. Then, she kept secret annals that see her through childhood traumas, from her distant relationship with her parents to her sufferings with PTSD and bipolar II as a result of such rearing.
My two cents: I’m beginning to find pleasure in reading memoirs lately, though I wasn’t a fan of the genre until Sam Shepard‘s Spy of the First Person, which I read on a whim last December. Mailhot’s Heart Berries seems like it would be a blistering read, and I always like to learn how people pull themselves out of struggle, the ways and methods they used to manage pain. The fact that Sherman Alexie gives his blessings also makes me more confident about having pre-ordered a personal copy for myself.
Akwaeke Emezi, Freshwater
Umuahia-born and raised in Aba, Akwaeke Emezi is an Igo and Tamil writer and artist, who holds a master’s degree from New York University with a focus in public administration. Akwaeke’s works have been perused in such publications as Vogue.com, Granta Online, and elsewhere. Akwaeke’s autobiographical work, Sometimes The Fire Is Not Fire, was hand-selected by the one and only Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for the …and just last year, Akwaeke claimed the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa for her story “Who Is Like God.”
*Akwaeke’s preferred pronouns are they/she.
Freshwater, in a nutshell: A Nigerian woman who rises out of her troubled youth and finds fortune in her adulthood after immigrating to the States for college, only to be spliced in unimaginable ways after a traumatic experience which proves to have a shocking impact on her mental health and identity.
My two cents: I pre-ordered off the premise alone. This book reminds me so much of Helen Oyeyemi‘s Boy, Snow, Bird, and I love it, especially the cover! I’m so curious to see Akwaeke chooses to factor mental health in this story; split/multiple personalities (from what I read of the synopsis) is a theme I’ve never explored, so I could definitely see this one being added to a future TBR this year.
Joseph Cassara, The House of Impossible Beauties
New Jerseyan at heart, Joseph Cassara is an alum of Columbia University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. (Let that sink in.) While The House of Impossible Beauties is the author’s premiere work, it’s already gaining traction as one of the most sought-after readers of the year by pubs like Entertainment Weekly, Shondaland, Southern Living, and The Wall Street Journal (where you can also read an excerpt).
The House of Impossible Beauties, in a nutshell: New York City, 1980s: a group of upbeat LGBTQ+ kids taking pleasure in the city’s nightlife, among them is our 17-year-old protagonist, Angel, and her partner, Hector, whom together interject the first all-Latinx house during Harlem’s raging ball scene. Then tragedy strikes in the form of an AIDS epidemic that seizes Hector, leaving Angel to carry on her responsibilities as the mother of their once-shared establishment.
My two cents: I’ve already pre-order this one from Book Depository (and the UK cover is just as beautiful as the one pictured above). I’m curious of how this story will play out, Cassara’s debut reminds of a film I watched last year called The Normal Heart, and it also gives me Dallas Buyers Club vibes, which both of which were phenomenal films and leaves me to believe The House of Impossible Beauties will leave nothing short of a lasting impression. I can’t wait to crack this one open as I’ve been meaning to read more LGBTQ+ books for a long time, anyway.