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As the home of many nationally recognized authors who write and teach throughout the area, D.C. is brimming with literary talent. From shining local bookstores, like Politics and Prose, East City Bookshop, Solid State Books, and Kramerbooks to events like Words Out Loud, the National Book Festival, and NoVa TEEN Book Festival, the region offers access to some of the finest writing happening today. These five local writers have new books out this year that are well worth diving into. And thanks to that variety of local bookstores, there are many opportunities to hear these writers talk about and read from their own stories in the months ahead.
Rion Amilcar Scott, a Silver Spring-raised George Mason University grad, is well known for his powerful voice in both fiction and nonfiction. His 2016 short story collection Insurrections won the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, and his stories and essays can be read in countless publications. The World Doesn’t Require You is his new collection, out Aug. 20, and it’s as commanding as you’d expect from Scott. (His words also appeared in City Paper’s 2014 Fiction Issue.)
The stories take place in fictional Cross River, Maryland, and the town’s history weaves in and out of each tale so thoroughly and with such certainty and authenticity that you’ll find yourself searching online for its local folklore about sinking, magical islands whose inhabitants lure men to their deaths.
From the collection, “David Sherman, the Last Son of God” is a story filled with gorgeous prose, about David, the youngest of God’s 13 children. In this story, like in all of Scott’s stories here, the reader is left to pause at the end with held breath. It’s a combination of bliss and deep discomfort, as if we must now examine how we’ve always thought and moved through this world. His short stories sing, like entire lifetimes lived in just 20 pages.
Scott reads at Politics and Prose on Connecticut Ave. on Aug. 27 at 7 p.m.
“The sky was slate; the trees were naked. The hag screeched from the peak of the pyre, bound to the stake, ropes thick enough to hold until the end,” Tara Campbell writes in “Bedpea,” a riveting story from her new collection Midnight at the Organporium.
In “Bedpea,” a queen from long ago is put to death for daring to question her royal husband’s sexually predatory nature. Like many of her stories, it’s an observation of what is happening right now in D.C. and around the country. Campbell is a master of both language and subtle humor. She dives into speculative fiction, grounded in situations that feel both familiar and alarming. We should be shocked as the queen burns. But we aren’t. Instead we nod, filled with unease at how something so old feels so current.
Campbell uses humor to lure us, sometimes in a steadily growing scene of horror, other times in a political commentary that strikes too close to home, and sometimes in pure, delightful silliness. Only Campbell can write a story about a homicidal plant, and deeply connect readers to its wounded owner, or a satirical story about parenting that makes us ache and burst out laughing in the same breath.
Campbell reads at Radici Market on Sept. 22 at 4 p.m. for DC Lit Crawl.
Barnes & Noble has already selected Zach Powers’ debut novel, First Cosmic Velocity, as one of its Discover Great New Writers books of this summer.
Released this week, the genre-defying alternate history tale of the USSR’s early space program is fiction for which the Arlington author did his homework. His details of the time period paint such a vivid picture that we frequently wonder what is real and what is imagined.
The characters come alive as Powers puts forth a speculative adventure that might as well be true, full of Soviet intrigue, a secret training program with astronaut twins, hidden failures, and an almost mystical lineage of canines that helps to unravel the whole thing. Powers’ love of space is evident from start to end. This novel is his tribute to the wonder of it all.
In an interview with Powers for Barrelhouse Magazine (where I am a volunteer assistant fiction editor) he said, “We know far less than a trillionth of a percent of what’s in the universe. The novel’s ending might be my admission that I’ll never have the answers to two of the questions I obsess over: ‘What’s out there?’ and ‘What’s next?’”
Powers reads at East City Bookshop on Aug. 18 at 4 p.m.
In Be With Me Always, D.C. writer Randon Billings Noble is in her element: an essay collection that features beautiful language intertwined with penetrating humanity.
One of the many jewels in Be With Me Always is “The Heart is a Torn Muscle.” “Your heart was already full, but then you saw him and your heart beat code, not Morse but a more insistent pulse,” she writes.
Noble gives us essays that elevate the rawness of real life with an overarching theme of hauntedness. From hard choices to characters in classic literature, from a near-death experience to past lovers, she has written a book that appeals to readers of both modern pop culture magazines and Emily Brontë.
Hilarious and heartbreaking, these essays ask uncomfortable questions as Noble explores her own heart honestly and boldly. She never distances herself from ugliness, even as her purposeful words are so lovely. Her devotion to the books she loves comes through in many of her pieces, drawing in readers who love and long for romantic veils from which truth still peeks underneath.
Noble reads at the Emerging Writers Festival in Alexandria from Aug. 16–18, and the Fall for the Book Festival at George Mason University from Oct. 10–12.
Melanie Hatter’s Kimbilio National Fiction Prize-winning novel Malawi’s Sisters takes on the personal and political aftermath of a young black woman’s murder. Her surviving family members’ struggles are an intimate counterpoint to today’s bombastic social climate, as the D.C.-based writer explores injustice through each powerful, delicately written character arc.
A white man shoots Malawi Walker as she asks for help after a car accident, an incident inspired by the true-life story of Renisha McBride. Reading Malawi’s Sisters, you feel the weight of the countless true stories of families who have faced similar losses, and of your own friends and family members who live in fear of such events. Hatter’s beautiful storytelling never feels like a lecture. Instead it’s like you’ve been thrown into a family’s deepest heartbreak, trying to make sense of the senseless.
We come to terms with what has happened, but resolution is not wrapped in a tidy bow—it festers with a deep, burning desire to change the violence that is still happening every day.
“I hope readers will deepen their thinking around racial violence and realize the profound ripple effect it has on the families and communities involved, that violence in all its forms should not be tolerated, that every individual is a human being with a family, with loved ones who are left with the pain of the loss, and that as a society, we should be valuing everyone equally,” Hatter says.
Hatter reads at Words Out Loud: A Spoken Word Series at Glen Echo Park on Sept. 6 at 7 p.m.