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23 Contemporary Writers You Should Have Read by Now

In a fair world, these critically acclaimed authors would be rocking the bestseller list.

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Terry McMillan authorvia

Terry McMillan

McMillan, back in 1987 when she published her first book, Mamawas so dissatisfied with her publisher's handling that she took it upon herself to publicize and sell her book (dealing with motherhood, pride, abuse, and despair) herself. Just the characters in her books, McMillan demands your attention and respect. With multiple film adaptions and the New York Times bestseller list picks, McMillan's novels tell crucial stories about identity, Blackness, relationships, and growth in acclaimed novels such as Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Start with: Waiting to Exhale

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Christine Schutt all souls bookvia

Christine Schutt

Schutt, who was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for her novel All Souls and a finalist for the National Book Award for her novel Florida, is known both for her gorgeous prose and for her fierce insights into marriage, money, class, and desire. She’s also an innovative stylist—an original you will want to read and re-read. Her most recent is 2018's Pure Hollywood: And Other Stories. If you're after Hollywood style, try these tips Audrey Hepburn-approved tips. Start with: All Souls

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mary miller authorvia

Mary Miller

Miller is both a fresh new voice and a wise old soul. Her debut novel, The Last Days of California (following a well-received story collection, Big World) is a road trip novel written from a teenager’s perspective; it's a funny, moving, and piquant look at American culture. Her Always Happy Hour takes a simultaneously hopeful and tragic tone as it explores relationships and sympathizes with characters searching for belonging and love in unconventional places. Miller is a writer poised make her presence felt for a long time. Start with: The Last Days of California

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Kazuo Ishiguro nevet let me go author bookvia

Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro uses dystopian themes and plot as a playground to make scathing political and social commentary that reads like riveting fiction. His Never Let Me Go follows characters who do not, or perhaps cannot, understand themselves or their role in society as they are forced into competitive creativity and away from unhealthy activates; this novel is a horrifying look at the future of medical science and diminished humanity. Among a long list of accolades for his novels (such as When We Were Orphans), short stories, and screenplays are his acceptance of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature and his Knight Bachelor status awarded in 2018. Start with: Never Let Me Go

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Victoria Redel author via

Victoria Redel

One could say that Redel alternates between prose (five books, most recently Before Everything and Make Me Do Things) and poetry (three), but that’s not quite it since her fiction is suffused with one gorgeously poetic line after another. Her highly anticipated Before Everything is a bittersweet look at female friendship, stages of life, and hope that Publisher's Weekly called "an unflinching and affecting look at how one woman's final days change the lives of those around her." Redel is a great storyteller—her novel Loverboy was made into a movie starring Kyra Sedgwick—and has the ability to make every sentence shimmer. If girl power is exactly what you're looking for, don't miss these 15 unforgettable female friendships in literature. Start with: The Border of Truth

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Michael Kimballvia

Michael Kimball

Kimball's books have been translated into a dozen languages, and he always seems this close to attracting the wide audience he deserves in the United States. His strongest novel, Big Ray, is an unflinching portrait of an abusive father whose death the narrator still grieves; it's not what you'd call an easy read, but it is a transformative one. Kimball's language is so deceptively simple that you don't always see him creeping up on you with profound truths. Start with: Big Ray

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Jessie Greengrass book sight authorvia

Jessie Greengrass

Greengrass published her debut novel, Sight, in 2018 while pregnant with her second child. Shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Sight is a woven narrative of pregnancy, motherhood, medical advances, and Freudian psychoanalysis that the New Yorker called, "A dazzling obsessive entry in a burgeoning genre...the novel as a whole exudes a strange, consoling power." Jessie Greengrass is one to watch and her website claims she is working on another novel. While you read how Greengrass reflects on her own mother and motherhood with such grace, do you still need a little reminder to call your mom?  Start with: Sight

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Paule Marshall author via

Paule Marshall

Paule Marshall's novels, like Brown Girl, Brownstones, and Praisesong for the Widow are considered groundbreaking works of African-American literature, but they should be required reading for everyone. Marshall, who was mentored by Langston Hughes, writes with passion and precision about immigrants from the Caribbean. Though she passed away in 2019, her novels continue to inspire and impact readers and have recently been met with renewed interest. While highly accredited and well-received in her time, she also graced readers with memorable quips such as "I realize that it is fashionable now to dismiss the traditional novel as something of an anachronism, but to me it is still a vital form." Start with: Brown Girl, Brownstones

Pamela Erens authorvia

Pamela Erens

Everyone who has the good fortune to pick up one of Erens' three novels becomes a fan. Whether writing about teenagers at boarding school (The Virgins), two mothers struggling together through labor (Eleven Hours), or a loner at the end of his tether (The Understory), Erens has a gift for making you want to spend time in her characters' company. Then you want to scout her other fans to discuss your good fortune of discovering her talents. If you're looking for other standouts in the literary world, try these handpicked debut novels of the past 50 years.  Start with: The Understory

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Hilton Als author via

Hilton Als

As an associate professor of writing at Columbia University, a staff critic and writer for the New Yorker, and a former writer for the Village Voice, Als has a long history of literary interaction and rich life experiences to propel his writing. Als' debut memoir, The Women, is an uncompromising "psychological study, a sociopolitical manifesto, and an incisive adventure in literary criticism," that paints in-depth portraits of lovers, mentors, and Als' own mother. His work revolves around ideas of sexuality, culture, identity, and race without coming up for air. The amazing impact of his latest work, White Girls, was summed up succinctly by The Chicago Tribune: "This book will change you." Start with: The Women

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