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Writers give us the opportunity to explore past worlds and the unknown through language, and contemporary authors provide both new and relevant perspectives on the familiar. These ten New York-based contemporary authors take life experiences, societal norms and disappointments and turn them into beautiful, eye-opening journeys for us all to enjoy. Here, we profile ten must-know contemporary NYC authors.
Born in the United States and raised in Nigeria, Teju Cole now resides in Brooklyn. His novella, Everyday is for the Thief, was named ‘Book of the Year’ by the New York Times, The Globe and Mail, and The Telegraph. His 2011 debut novel, Open City, follows the narrator as he wanders the streets of Manhattan and struggles with identity, race, relationships, and daily life. Open City won Teju Cole the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, which is an award given to up-and-coming authors. His latest work, Known and Strange Things, will feature a compilation of essays covering a variety of topics from art to literature and politics. Known and Strange Things is set to be published in fall 2016.
Although she grew up in Connecticut, Joan Wickersham considers New York her home. Her most recent book, The News From Spain, won NPR’s ‘Best Book of the Year,’ and is an enticing tale about the true complications of love exemplified through seven different stories. Wickersham is probably best known for her memoir The Suicide Index, which tells the harrowing story of her father’s suicide and how it impacted her life from then on. Her fictional works have also been published in The Best American Short Stories and have garnered critical acclaim.
Paule Marshall is considered one of New York City’s most groundbreaking authors when it comes to African American literature. Born in Brooklyn, Marshall grew up with immigrant parents who hailed from Barbados. She attended Brooklyn College and later Hunter College before trying her hand at PR. Unable to find success, she went on to become the food and fashion editor at Our World, a publication dealing with global issues and diversity. It was during her time there that she began writing her critically acclaimed novel, Brown Girl, Brownstones — the story of a first-generation Bajan girl and her family’s struggles in Brooklyn. In 2010, Ms. Marshall won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards.
Brooklyn native Meghan O’Rourke was the youngest editor in the history of The New Yorker and also served as poetry editor and advisory editor at the Paris Review. Her poems have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Vogue, Best American Poetry, and more. She has also won several awards, including the May Sarton Poetry Prize, and two Pushcart Prizes for her works Once and Halflife. In 2011, she wrote a memoir titled The Long Goodbye, chronicling the sorrow she felt after losing her mother and considering how we mourn in modern-day society. She is currently working on a book that explores stories of chronic illness.
Born in Harlem, Persia Walker spent a significant portion of her time at home suffering from asthma. Her books were her ‘solace,’ and at the age of 16, she won a scholarship to Swarthmore College, where she majored in Comparative Religion and minored in Black Anthropology. She also received a graduate degree in Journalism from Columbia University in NYC. After battling breast cancer, she completed her first novel, Harlem Redux, the tale of a young lawyer who travels to Harlem to uncover the reason behind his sister’s suicide. Set in 1920s Harlem, the book takes the reader through this fast-paced era of old-world New York. Walker is also well-known for her novel Black Orchid Blues.
Born in New York, Hilton Als has been notably prolific. After attending Columbia University, Als went on to work for highly-respected publications such as The New Yorker, the Village Voice, and Vibe. His first novel, The Women, was considered a ‘sociopolitical manifesto’ in which Als analyzed how sexual and racial identity shaped the lives of various women — both famous women and women whom he knew personally. The Women was subsequently listed as a New York Times ‘Notable Book.’ His second novel, White Girls, uses both fiction and non-fiction to explore the various issues that African Americans have dealt with in history and continue to deal with in the present day. In 2016, he won the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize for his works of non-fiction.
At the age of 15, Frederic Tuten dropped out of high school to live in Paris as a painter. He later decided to go back to school and pursue a degree, and ended up up with a Ph.D in early 19th century American literature from NYU. He has since published five novels, including The Adventures of Mao on The Long March, Van Gogh’s Bad Café, and The Green Hour. His most well-known work was TinTin in the New World, a story re-appropriating the famous Belgian cartoon character, TinTin, where Tuten brought him into a very different setting.
Originally from Chicago, Jamie Attenberg now resides in Brooklyn. She gained notoriety back in 2003 when her first work, Deli Life, was published. She went on to publish two books in 2006 — Instant Love (a collection of short stories exploring the idea of love through the eyes of three women) and The Kept Man, a story about a woman who finds unexpected friendship with a group of stay-at-home husbands while her spouse is in a coma. The Middlesteins, published in 2012, has also won acclaim as a finalist for The Los Angeles Times Book Prize and St. Francis College Literary Prize. She is currently working on a new book, which will be titled All Grown Up.
This Bronx-born journalist, critic, actor, comedian, and teacher has made quite an impression on the literary world. God Says No, James Hanaham’s debut novel, follows the life of a fat, secretly gay, black, Christian man who is about to start a family with his wife. God Says No shines a spotlight on the very real stories of those who feel that they must keep their true selves a secret. His second novel, Delicious Foods, is a powerful and compelling story that follows the lives of a widowed mother, her son, and cocaine, which is is the unlikely narrator.
A Harvard graduate who originally hails from NYC, Colson Whitehead worked for The Village Voice before becoming a published author. He has written five novels, including the New York Times bestseller Zone One, the story of a post-apocalyptic world in which humans and zombies struggle for dominance. His latest book, Underground Railroad, was chosen for Oprah’s Book Club.
By Rachelle Eason
Rachelle is currently a senior at St. John’s University, pursuing a degree in Journalism. She hopes to be able to stay in the city and go to grad school. In her spare time, she enjoys taking random trips to Manhattan and Brooklyn, trying new restaurants, and watching Netflix.