Race, Gender and Family Themes Mark a Prolific Season for Virginia Writers 

Beach reading season is over. And there’s no better reminder than an autumn of books about racism, sexism, family drama, dreams deferred, unpunished crime and the general struggles of being human. But don’t despair — they’re all really good. And that’s reason enough to be hopeful.


Before the star-filled movie comes out in January, read Hampton native and Charlottesville resident Margot Lee Shetterly’s “Hidden Figures,” the story of black women mathematicians who helped win the space race. The book takes place in Jim Crow Virginia at NASA’s Langley before the 1962 American orbit of Earth.

click to enlarge Belle Boggs - TRACE RAMSEY
  • Trace Ramsey
  • Belle Boggs

Out the same day, Belle Boggs’ “The Art of Waiting” is a follow-up to the Prince William County native’s viral essay about trying to conceive. She explores the fertile natural world around her, childlessness in literature, and medicine that informs modern motherhood.

Richmond’s Kat Spears is back with another novel in mid-September, “The Boy Who Killed Grant Parker.” Like her first two, it’s set in high school and marketed as teen lit, but adults also will enjoy her memorable characters and plot-driven stories.

click to enlarge Nell Zink - FRED FILKORN
  • Fred Filkorn
  • Nell Zink

Virginia-raised Nell Zink is back with “Nicotine” on Oct. 4. Sadly, this novel doesn’t take place in 1970s Virginia like “Mislaid,” but we can expect more sharp humor in this story of a business school graduate’s clash with anarchist squatters at her New Jersey house.

Katy Resch George’s collection of stories, “Exposure,” is out Oct. 15. The Richmond resident has compiled an unassuming, exhilarating collection that stays with you long after you put it down.

On Oct. 18, Beth Macy follows up her fascinating book about Bassett Furniture Co. with “Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping and a Mother’s Quest.” It’s the true story of young brothers kidnapped from their Virginia farm in 1899 and made to perform in the circus — and their mother’s attempt to recover them.

Former Richmond Times-Dispatch journalist Howard Owen releases his fifth Willie Black novel, “Grace,” on Oct. 31. This time Black is investigating the disappearance of children from Richmond’s East End, while navigating the changing world of his daily newspaper. I wonder which one it’s based on?

On Nov. 15, Richmond poet Leslie Shiel releases her second chapbook, “Braided,” and local bestselling suspense author Mary Burton has another murder mystery in the Forgotten Files series: “The Dollmaker.”


You can plan a whole day around literary events Sept. 10. Lenore H. Gay reads from her August release, “Shelter of Leaves,” at Chop Suey Books. The Richmond writer’s action-packed novel starts with bombs ripping through major American cities and a memory-challenged protagonist stumbling her way to West Virginia.

The Library of Virginia has historian Charles B. Dew reading from his new memoir, “The Making of a Racist: a Southerner Reflects on Family, History and the Slave Trade,” a reckoning with his upbringing, which included a Virginia boarding school and the ways that white supremacy passes through generations.

That same day, Essex County poet Edward Wright Haile will read from his new collection of ballads, odes and poems, “Virginia Leaf,” at Book People.

On Sept. 21, the University of Richmond English department brings feminist writer Roxane Gay to speak. If you haven’t yet heard of Gay, the coming year will see her memoir, a collection of short stories, a movie of her novel and a co-written installment of the Black Panther comic series. Read her engaging, persuasive collection of essays, “Bad Feminist,” before the event.

Young Richmond writer Brynne Rebele-Henry reads from her new genre-bending book, “Fleshgraphs,” at Chop Suey on Sept. 24. The author, born in 1999, explores girlhood, feminism and queerness in her debut book.

Atlanta artist Makeda Lewis will be at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery on Sept. 28 with her Afro-feminist coloring book, “Avie’s Dreams.” Described as “part activity book, part surrealist poem,” the drawings, and the beer, may inspire you to color outside the lines.

On Oct. 15, the Library of Virginia presents its Literary Awards for poetry, fiction and nonfiction. Several writers with Richmond ties are nominated for the $2,500 prize: Joshua Poteat for his poems in “The Regret Histories,” Kristen Green for her book on massive resistance, “Something Muse Be Done About Prince Edward County,” Bert Ashe for “Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles,” and poet Claudia Emerson for her posthumously published collection, “Impossible Bottle.”

click to enlarge Danez Smith - HIEU MINH NGUYEN
  • Hieu Minh Nguyen
  • Danez Smith

On Nov. 3, University of Richmond has rising-star poet Danez Smith, author of “[Insert] Boy.” Smith is also the founder of Dark Noise Collection of spoken word artists and known for powerful slam poetry performances.

Virginia Commonwealth University awards its Cabell First Novelist prize to Angela Flournoy for “The Turner House” on Nov. 17. Given for an outstanding debut novel from the year prior, the honor comes with $5,000 for Flournoy’s generational tale of a large Detroit family.

November also is National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to churn out at least 50,000 words toward that novel you’ve always wanted to write. See you at your book release in 2017.


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