THERE ARE FIRST NOVELS AND THEN THERE ARE DEBUTS
First novels, as we think of them, are more an accretion of bursts of inspiration than they are a grand entrance. Most often, they’re not the books that authors will most want to be associated with later. They often veer far afield of more practiced work. As readers, we readily excuse mistakes in first novels, since they are simply an author’s introductory attempts. Debuts, though—debuts are all about making a memorable entrance, about staking claim to honored space in literary circles. They are the here I am! that won’t be ignored.
Think of the debutant balls of yore, where, after what seems to be a lifetime of preparation, new adults prance out in all of their finery, presenting themselves to society with pomp, promising personal greatness. Now, hold the artifice (sorry, debs), transfer the careful arrangements to the page, and wait in expectation for the defrilled literary equivalent: the first novel with flair. The unforgettable hello. The pages that dazzle you with their originality and bravery and individuality, whose characters and lines sear into you, leaving an impression ever after.
While we are appreciative of the seasoned authors whose names carry familiarity and of whom we know what to expect, what we love even more is the thrill of encountering an author who exhibits true artistry. From issue to issue, and feature to feature, great debut authors and their works wield a particular kind of charm for us, a magic that we hold precious.
In this debut fiction spotlight, we have gathered the books of twenty such authors—writers of uncommon skill, with exemplary and awesome perspectives, whose entrances warrant special attention. We have new takes on Southern literary tales, and rich, humanizing new approaches to historical moments. We have short story collections bursting with bottled magic.
One novel takes a hybrid form to explore identity and transformation in a post-apocalyptic setting; another takes on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, peering through one family’s experiences to explore the fragility of human defenses. These books embody global insights; there are Inuit and Jordanian stories here, LGBTQ perspectives, and more than one take on the end of the world.
No matter how broadly representative the stories they hold, what binds all of these books together is this: they are unforgettable. That they are debut works is just a bonus—just a hint of other great stories to come.