Favorite Short Stories By Womxn of Color

I am a poetry and novel kind of girl, so I’ve only read a handful of short stories. However, this list contains five of the most stupendous short stories I have ever read, and all of them were written by womxn of color. So many womxn writers have mastered, redefined, and reclaimed the short story and oftentimes, their contributions to the literary world are not seen, heard, and circulated. I recommend for you all to peruse these stories and to encourage others to do the same. Learn, share, grow, and inspire.

1. “The Book of the Dead” by Edwidge Danticat

Okay, I know this does not really qualify as a “short story” and many critics have argued that Danticat’s The Dew Breaker isn’t really a novel either, but a collection of intricately connected tales or stories. However, there’s no denying that every chapter/section of Danticat’s book is able to stand out on its own. “The Book of the Dead,” the first chapter of The Dew Breaker, stood out to me in particular. I loved the mystery surrounding the narrator’s father’s past, the symbolism of the wooden sculpture, how seamlessly the narration flowed throughout (in contrast to movement/migration), and how Danticat introduced the pain, displacement, but also the new beginnings, of diaspora. I will spoil no more, however. The Dew Breaker is a phenomenal book, and is something immigrants and the children of immigrants can greatly relate to.

2. “Bottoms Up” by Namwali Serpell

Speculative fiction is on the rise, and Namwali Serpell’s “Bottoms Up” is evidence of this. This short story is incredibly bizarre but scintillating, and Serpell shows how the erotic can meld well with the many elements and themes that make up speculative fiction. I loved how she played with sexuality, particularly female sexuality, and for a moment, I was actually convinced that “Bot” was a living, sexual creature rather than a machine of masturbatory aid. I was fortunate to have heard this story read aloud by Serpell herself during a Story Hour event at UC Berkeley, and her reading definitely added to my love for this story. Serpell is actually working on a novel, and she is definitely one of the many womxn of color writers we need to look out for.

3. “Deflowering the Sampaguita” by M. Evelina Galang

(You can find this short story in the Pinay Power anthology.) M. Evelina Galang is one of my favorite Pinay writers. The first short stories I ever read from her were “Mix Like Stir Fry” and “Filming Sausage,” all found in Her Wild American Self. What intrigues me most about this story (and many of Galang’s short stories) is how she chose to write in second person. As a reader, second person is a little difficult for me to get into. I struggle with imagining myself as “you” and feel I have to suspend a little more disbelief to get into the story. But with “Deflowering the Sampaguita,” I did not feel any of that. There was no distance between myself and the “you” in the story. After a few sentences, I was convinced that “you” was me all along, and that the struggles, experiences, and contradictions being illustrated in the story were mine and all other Filipina Americans’. I’ve already talked about this story in a previous post and I again do not wish to spoil it for you all. Read if you want to open up about and interrogate your Filipina American sexuality. Read if you want to see Pinayist self-expression through creative writing.

4. “Recitatif” by Toni Morrison

The Queen! (Just kidding.) This is the only short story Toni Morrison has ever published. It is about race, racism, racist stereotypes, womxnhood, and friendship. Twyla and Roberta are two girls who meet in an orphanage and throughout the tale, Morrison never reveals the race of these two womxn. She leaves it up to the reader to decide. You automatically begin to look for signs. “Twyla must be black because of her name.” “No, Roberta is black because her mother’s super religious.” With this, you become aware of how much we are relying on racial stereotypes to prove which girl is black and which girl is white. It’s uncomfortable, yes, and you yourself have to come to terms with your own hidden brand of racism. Although both girls are different races, either one of them could be black or white. Morrison successfully crafts a story where race is central to the conflict, but all racial codes and markers are blurred. This story made me wish that one day, Toni Morrison will come out with a collection of mind boggling short stories.

5. “Walang Hiya, Brother” by Melissa Sipin

Ate Melissa is another one of my favorite Pinay writers. I first encountered her work while I was on {m}aganda Magazine staff and we were blown away by the pieces she submitted. Since then, I knew I would be following her work. “Walang Hiya, Brother” won first place on Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open  and you don’t have to close read too much to see why. Walang hiya. Shame. Ate Melissa successfully explores this concept unique to the Filipin@ experience, and how it operates at personal, political, social, and economic levels. I’ve had this phrase thrown at me by my parents and like the characters in the story, it haunts me. Terrifies me. Even prevents me from doing what I want because I am afraid of feeling it. But I think it’s amazing that Ate Melissa wrote about it. That she was able to contextualize, write, and share this feeling we have been taught to remain silent about. And I think that’s the jewel behind this story. It teaches us not be afraid to share what hurts you. And like Ate Melissa and all these fierce womxn writers, to have the courage to write what haunts you.

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