Debut novels announcing the arrival of fresh, young talents are often praised for their capacity to dazzle. Freshly anointed literary darlings are ‘brilliant’, ‘precocious’ and ‘virtuosic’.
But such descriptions don’t exactly fit with 26-year-old Californian author Brit Bennett, whose stirring first novel, The Mothers, is remarkable not for its flashy prose or clever metanarrative manoeuvres but for its restrained eloquence.
Bennett’s protagonist, 17-year-old Nadia, lives in a conservative black Christian community in Southern California. The Mothers is a story that navigates both familiar coming-of-age fare (stifling small-town life, evolving friendships, vocation) and complex moral terrain (abortion, suicide, religion) with subtlety, intelligence and wry humour.
Bennett’s talents have seen her rise in demand as an essayist, too. Her non-fiction work, much of which has centred on American racial politics and identity, has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times and the Paris Review.
In conversation with Emily Sexton, Bennett will discuss writing, American identities and the mother of 2016 debuts.
Born and raised in Southern California, Brit Bennett graduated from Stanford University and later earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award in Graduate Short Fiction as well as the 2014 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. Her work is featured in&nbs... Read more
Emily Sexton is a former Head of Programming for the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas. She was the recipient of a prestigious Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship in 2014. Previously, she was Artistic Director of Next Wave (2010–14), where her key achievements were a radical rethink of an ar... Read more
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