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A Black woman in a blue-checked dress stands in front of a dark background.

Photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz.


Nafissa Thompson-Spires

She // Her // Hers


Brooklyn, New York

I write the stories I wanted to read as a young Black girl in white spaces that offered me very little reflection of my own image — stories of outsiders who eschew easy categorization, stories of the absurdities of everyday life and the absurdities of Blackness in everyday life.”

Nafissa Thompson-Spires is the author of Heads of the Colored People, which won the PEN Open Book Award, the Hurston/Wright Award for Fiction, and The Los Angeles Times’ Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. Thompson-Spires’ collection was longlisted for the National Book Award, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award, and several other prizes including an NAACP Image Award. She is also the recipient of a 2019 Whiting Award.

She earned a doctorate in English from ­­­­Vanderbilt University and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from ­­­­­­the University of Illinois. With dark humor and covering topics from identity to chronic illness, her short fiction and essays have appeared in The Paris Review Daily, The Cut, The Root, The White Review, Ploughshares, 400 Souls: A Community History of African America 1619–2019, The 1619 Project, among other publications. In addition to a novel under contract with Scribner, she has new writing forthcoming in Fourteen Days: A Community Gathering, edited by Margaret Atwood.

Thompson-Spires is currently the Richards Family Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Cornell University, teaching both in the MFA and undergraduate programs.

Donor -This award was generously supported by Mellon Foundation.

This artist page was last updated on: 07.11.2024

Dr. Burton was having a no-good, very bad day, and I was more than a little proud of my role in it. I watched from the eaves of her beamed kitchen as she burned her coffee and then her tongue, cussing a little, and then as her boys — all five of them — fought her requests, demands, and eventual threats that they had better eat their cereal breakfasts or else no tv that evening and no video games. Te baby gummed a frozen teething ring without comfort and wailed even as she lifted him from his highchair and bounced him between her shoulder and hip around the exquisite space — white glass-paned cabinets and a matching walk-in pantry, turquoise and royal blue hand-cut tilework on the backsplash, stainless steel appliances, and a separate maid’s kitchen, in addition to the bar and island. Not my taste, mind you, but representative of a certain level of comfort she could only afford at the expense of people like me and her husband’s job as a professor of mechanical engineering at the selfsame university where I used to teach.

Outside, the devil beat his wife all morning, the sun glistening through lush raindrops that ran down the street and threatened flash foods on local radio, and while I don’t perform the devil’s bidding, only my own, I delighted in his contribution of additional stressors as Dr. Burton made her way to her car, parked in the driveway despite her three-car garage. I turned her umbrella inside out just as she managed to spill her travel mug onto and partly into her Wellington boots. Her limp brown hair hung about her neck in soaked clumps and dripped onto her collar. She pinched the bridge of her nose before backing out and into her commute to the hospital, stalled four times by detours where workers had placed sandbags and hazard signs. It would be a glorious day for me, to be sure, though I hadn’t outlined my course of actions yet. Rather than a set plan — though there are consistencies — I like to respond to her as the day proceeds. This method seems to cause the most damage.

Excerpt of “The Old Doctor's Story, Or The Haunting of Mill Creek Medical Facility,” 2021. Ploughshares.