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.
As a tribute to the talented writers releasing their first book this year, get familiar with three fresh new faces on the lit scene, below.
1. Gabe Habash, Stephen Florida
Gabe Habash is the fiction news editor at Publishers Weekly and also the brains behind Stephen Florida, one of the brawniest debuts of the year. Habash is an alum of New York University, where he received his MFA in Creative Writing. He is also married to Marlena author Julie Buntin, in case you aren’t following the couple on Instagram already.
Stephen Florida, in a nutshell: A titular underdog named Stephen, a college wrestler competing in his senior year. With nods to the 2014 Oscar-nominated drama Foxcatcher, the lonesome Stephen’s slip into the creaks of madness makes this story a punchdrunk victory.
My two cents (because I’m obliged): Let me be honest, I wasn’t sold on this book at first. But that’s only because of its implied reliance on a sport I hardly know anything about: wrestling. Plus, I am athletically gauche and physical activity, in any capacity, scares the shit outta me. Remarkably, Habash shares my same wariness on the subject and I respect anyone willing to tread into this lion’s den. (Also, I’m reading it now, so I’ll return with my thoughts.)
2. Zinzi Clemmons, What We Lose
Philadelphian by way of South Africa and Trinidad, Zinzi Clemmons is a writer and editor whose stomping grounds include both Brown (BA in Critical Theory and Literary Arts) and Columbia (MFA in Fiction). In addition to her stance as contributing editor at LitHub, Clemmons is a co-founder of the respected Apogee Journal, a collaborative of Columbia incepts of color with a mission to “publish fresh work that interrogates the status quo.” *snap, snap*
What We Lose, in a nutshell: A nerve-racking coming-of-age tale about a girl named Thandi, half black, half white, left to buoy through an unfamiliar world after losing her mother to cancer. Marooned and in search of something, or someone, to latch onto, Thandi’s life bursts before us in a vision of sketches on maternity, love, race, among other actualities.
My two cents (because I feel like it): I don’t know about y’all, but there’s something about this book that’s giving me real Another Brooklyn [by Jacqueline Woodson] vibes, and I devoured that thing with ravenous hunger. Clemmons’ What We Lose is fresh on my radar, and at the top of my list of books to read this year. Not only that but I simply love reading new books by writers of color, it never ceases to inspire me.
3. Emily Ruskovich, Idaho
Hailing from the mountain ranges, Emily Ruskovich is a University of Montana (MA in English) alum and graduate from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she received her MFA. She’s also been a two-time James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and in 2015 she received the O. Henry Award for her story “Owl.” [read an excerpt] Ruskovich currently teaches creative writing at University of Colorado and is expected to begin her tenure at Boise State University in her native Idaho this fall.
Idaho, in a nutshell: In the dog days of summer, a family of four—Jenny, Wade, and their daughters May and June—treks out into the mountains to scavenge for birch…and all hell breaks loose. The improbable happens and characters, both past and present, undergo a vicious unspooling of secrets, lies, and murder.
My two cents (you get the point): Ever since Mercedes of MercysBookishMusings raved over this book so much in a previous video this year, I’ve been itching to get my hands on a copy. I’d seen it at the library a few times before but I’m anxious to buy it; I just love how it seems to have all the intimate rural elements of a good Bonnie Jo Campbell read while still tying itself to certain thriller aspects I enjoy most: secrets, lies, and deception.