Champaign-Urbana has an extraordinarily rich history when it comes to the written word. The list of authors, poets, publishers, cartoonists, and journalists is staggering, relative to the size of this community. And it's not just the University of Illinois that gets to claim the credit. It's a healthy mix of the entire community and its center campus.
For real, think about it:
David Foster Wallace. Iris Chang. Roger Ebert. George Will. Richard Powers. Bill Geist. Jean Thompson. Roxane Gay. Hugh Hefner. Chef Ra. Will Leitch. Steven Hager. Thelma Strabel. Timothy Zahn. Tommy Craggs. Nina Paley.
There's more. I am missing some, I know it. The list is insane, honestly.
Today, April 10, 2018, Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies, Nafissa Thompson-Spires releases Heads of the Colored People via 37 Ink, a division of literary powerhouse Simon & Schuster.
So now, she joins that list, officially.
After all, the amount of advance press for the collection of stories — all of it glowing — is astounding:
All Things Considered. Publisher's Weekly. Booklist. Kirkus Reviews. The New York Times. Publisher's Weekly. Harper's Bazaar. Bustle. The Root. BuzzFeed. Fast Company. Vulture.
I could keep going.
Listen, I am not a psychic. I cannot state anything with certainty about what the future holds. The best I can do is make predictions based upon empirical data that showcases a likely conclusion.
This assessment leads me to believe that Nafissa Thompson-Spires is going to be one of the most well regarded authors to ever have lived here. She will be famous. And it will be well deserved. Because we are basically all living next door to one of the most talented young authors in the world right now.
Admittedly, I've only just read two stories from the collection over the past couple of days, and this isn't a book review. We'll get someone better suited to read it and relay their thoughts on the release soon enough.
Regardless, I suggest that you do two things in the next few days:
1. Buy the book. Preferably from a local bookseller. Read it. Tell a friend.
2. Read the non-fiction piece she just published in The Paris Review. This will give you some very powerful insight about the author. It was just published yesterday. I am in awe of this type of resilience.
Champaign-Urbana is lucky have Nafissa Thompson-Spires. At least, we get to have her for the moment. The last time we played host to this sort of voice, we lost them to Purdue University, and now, Roxane Gay is considered to be one of the most important voices of this generation of young, new authors.
This kind of talent isn't something that just accidentally appears. It is crafted, and it is practiced, and it is honed, and it is worthy of reverence.
Three cheers for all of this. Three cheers, indeed.
Photo Credit: Adrianne Mathiowetz Photography