Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self

Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, published in 2010 by Riverhead Books,  is a collection of eight short stories, some of which have appeared in magazines and anthologies including The Paris Review, A Public Space, Best American Short Stories, and New Stories From the South.  It is a co-winner of the 2011 PEN American Robert W. Bingham Prize for a first book, a National Book Foundation 5 under 35 selection for 2011, the winner of the 2011 Paterson Prize for Fiction and the 2011 Hurston-Wright award for fiction, and an honorable mention for the 2011  PEN/Hemingway award.You can order the collection here, here,  here, or here.

Reviews:

The Washington Post says “I hope Danielle Evans is a very nice person because that might be her only defense against other writers’ seething envy. At 26, this D.C.-area author has already graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, earned praise from Salman Rushdie and Richard Russo, and appeared in two (two!) volumes of “Best American Short Stories.” Now comes the publication of her first collection, “Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self,” eight quietly devastating stories that validate the hype. No, she’s not the America’s Next Top Model of the same name — that would just be too much — but she’s captivating in a far more profound way.”

The New York Times Book Review says “Rather than limiting the collection’s gaze, this perspective amplifies the universal pitfalls of coming of age in 21st-century America. At a store in the mall, ‘girls 3 and up could get manicures.’ Parents, whether two subway stops away or on a research trip in Brazil, are unaware of their transgressions. (The notion that ‘we are safe, with our families, until we are not’ is a preoccupation here.) In Evans’s world, virginity is a card to play quickly and strategically. One character, looking after her 14-year-old cousin (Grandfather is dying, Mother is at a church retreat), sums it up heartbreakingly well: ‘I feel kind of sorry for her entire generation, because they’ve learned all the theatrical parts of sex so they walk around pouting and posing, . . . but not the basic mechanical processes of actual pleasure.’ This kind of voice — wry and wise, ‘brave the way you are when you don’t know what you have to lose’ — drives the best of these stories. But the conversational tone belies careful construction.”

The New York Times says “The most vivid characters in Danielle Evans’s story collection are in-betweeners: between girlhood and womanhood; between the black middle class and Ivy League privilege; between iffy boyfriends and those even less reliable; between an extended family and living on your own. To say they’re caught between worlds isn’t quite accurate, though; they tend to be hard-headed, sadder but wiser and, most of all, funny”

The Boston Globe says “There are books that capture our world perfectly, like a scrim over a stage. And then there are books that surprise the audience and go somewhere new, somewhere completely unpredictable. In this collection, Evans paints a picture, sometimes ripping through the fabric. One wonders where she will go next.”

Harper’s Bazaar puts Danielle Evans on their list of Names to Know For 2011

Vogue puts Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self on its list of Eight Great Books.

People Magazine gives the book 4 stars: “”Appreciate the liars,” a caddish musician tells his still-smitten ex-girlfriend. “When people don’t hide things, it means they don’t care (about) losing you.” Indeed, many of these eight wonderfully melancholy stories mostly set along the East Coast deal with loss-of family, of love, of innocence-and all explore the chasm between what others see and who we really are. In “Snakes” a preteen endures a summer with her distant grandmother. “Virgins” follows two clueless teen girls navigating the suddenly adult world of male attention, while the indelible “Jellyfish” dissects a strained relationship between a lonely father and his equally adrift adult daughter.”

Time Magazine says: Danielle Evans’ blisteringly smart short stories offer fresh perspective on being young and black in America. From a vandalizing valedictorian to a rejected biracial child, her characters triumph by surviving without forgetting.

O Magazine puts Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self on its list of 10 books to read for October

New York Magazine calls Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self one of the 20 most anticipated fall titles, and also includes it on a list of indie bookstore picks.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution puts Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self on its recommended reading list for the fall, and also opens its review of New Stories from the South 2010 with a mention of the story “Someone Ought to Tell Her There’s Nowhere to Go.”

Entertainment Weekly says “This striking debut collection offers rich slices of African-American life.”

Essence says ” Critics raved about Danielle Evans’s talent soley based on “Virgins,”…. Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, her eagerly awaited first collection, proves them right. The current American University professor will win you over with eight thoroughly modern, funny, and tender stories such as “Harvest,” about a gifted black college student grappling with an unplanned pregnancy.  (Sept 2010)

Marie Claire says: “The much buzzed-about collection tackles what it means to be young and black or mixed-race right now, in bold, vivid prose.”

Color Magazine says:  “Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self (Riverhead Books, available September 23rd) is a short story collection with modern plot references, a confident tone that doesn’t falter or over-explain as she effortlessly draws you into each world she weaves. Throughout the book her characters’ sense of acute longing infuse the stories with a touching sense of fragility, often buried under outward bravado. In interviews, Danielle Evans’ pleasant and articulate voice comes across as self-possessed, poised; she is an astute observer of people whose own childhood made her have to adapt to new homes every few years. She writes like a twenty-something with an old soul.”

Kirkus (starred review) calls the collection “arresting” and “achingly believable.”

Library Journal says “This debut collection is contemporary, powerful, and very real…A broad cast of characters fills these pages, from working class to privileged, from modest to exceptional, including a high school valedictorian, Ivy League students, professors, and successful businesspeople. “Jellyfish” captures the range, featuring a man finally moving from Harlem to Brooklyn when his roof caves in, who’s late for lunch as always with his conscientious artist daughter.  VERDICT A smartly written and enjoyable collection from an up-and-coming author; particularly recommended for those interested in contemporary relationships in our increasingly diverse and global society.”

Michael Cart at Booklist says “Evans’ first collection of short stories deals thoughtfully and incisively with considerations of class, race, and coming-of-age. That six of the stories are told in their female or male protagonists’ first-person voices brings them immediacy and emotional resonance… what all of the stories share is a demonstration of the profound influence of the past on the present-day lives of their characters and the intricacies of relationships among African American, white, Hispanic, and mixed-race young people. Clearly, Evans lives up to her reputation as an important new voice in literary fiction.”

Postbourgie says: “Though most stories are told through a retrospective lens, they have a feeling of immediacy. This is because Evans’s characters are really, really smart. They’re introspective, they struggle to live up to their own moral codes, and are aware of their emotional baggage. Throughout this collection we see characters make crucial, sometimes tragic mistakes, but they do it without flinching. They do it because they refuse to be vulnerable, other times because they’re tired of pretending to be perfect, and still other times because, well, mistakes are what people make sometimes.”

The AV Club says: “Danielle Evans’ Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self is a remarkable short-story collection in a good year for short-story collections. Every story takes on its own life, all her characters live rich and complicated lives, and the plotting never grows too predictable or unfocused.”

Belletrista says: “If you are a reader of a certain age, you may think you’ve been there. But Evans adds something you might have lacked when you traveled that road. She has a gift for seeing the big picture in the middle of a small struggle, and for adding extraordinary wisdom to her take on coming of age. These stories offer us a view through the wise old eyes of a talented young writer destined for great things.”

Bookpage says: “Moral ambiguity is explored beautifully in the best of these stories as well as the deeply felt moments of choice and regret. Evans is young to be so wise, but that youth is to the reader’s benefit; she is a writer we hope to be hearing from for a long time. ”

50 books for 2010 says: ” Having just finished reading Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, I think “The Bridge Poem” is key to understanding the undercurrent of displacement among African-Americans that permeates Evans’ stories. In “Virgins,” the collection’s first story and the one that landed its young author in the vaunted pages of The Paris Review, a teenage girl vacillates between instinct and adolescent curiosity as she timorously embraces her budding sexuality. It should be noted that, refreshingly, this and the other short stories are remarkably unpretentious, no small feat in this genre. The main character in “Virgins” displays the fledgling snark that marks a phase suffered through by all urban youth, with which readers’ near-universal familiarity makes it hard not to grin when she consoles her friend, “The only difference between that girl and the subway…is that everybody in the world hasn’t ridden the subway.”

Underneath such faux-witticisms lies a deep-seated unease with concurrently, and contrarily, demanding social pressures…”

Longfellow Books says “Evans’ debut collection of stories, which explore race & class & family & feminity & love from strong points of view and in deceptively simple prose, are some of the best I’ve read in years. These short stories will stick with you and they are best of the season.”

The Elliot Bay Book Company says:  “In these eight stories, Evans proves herself a deft little heartbreaker. She captures the raw vernacular of adolescence, the vulnerability it hides, and the search for grace in its brutal and clumsy fluctuations. Her characters live flush up against the confinements of their lives and are often silenced in the greater noise of the rest of the world. Still, they demand to be explored and known on their own terms. Evans’s writing style leaves nothing wasted. Haunted vets, wicked grandmothers, brutal best friends, and sexual beginnings merge to create an exciting collection of voices.”

tkreviews says “Evans more than lives up to these honors. Her prose is elegant but straightforward and fluid and the points she makes are wise and profound but derived from believably ordinary events. Ostensibly things haven’t changed much during many of these stories’ climaxes, but we can feel the difference in the aftermath as readily as if a tornado had just blown through. Every sigh, every silence, every eye role or snarky comment speaks volumes. Each of the stories has a black or biracial protagonist, and while the non white experience in America is certainly explored here with wit and candor, factors universal to every person’s growing up and finding his or her way in the world prove equally relevant to the stories’ outcomes. There’s as much to learn and experience here as there is to relate to.”

The River’s End Bookstore says: The amazing range of these short stories is equaled by their depth, intensity, and tenderness. Black and biracial kids and adults grapple with issues of family, love, friendship, race, class, and identity. “Snakes,” one of the most remarkable stories, covers all of those as a biracial girl and her white cousin spend a summer with their troubled and troubling grandmother. The story gains breadth and impact with a look at the summer’s long-term repercussions

Lynne Kimmerle at Monarch Book Reviews calls the collection “a wonderful book of short stories that doesn’t have any “B” sides; they’re all “A”s.”

Mary McDonald calls Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self a “must read,” even for people who don’t like short stories.

Advanced Praise for Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self:

“Danielle Evans is funny as hell. Which only makes all the heartbreak in these stories more surprising and satisfying. The young women in this collection are always on the edge of real trouble but don’t be fooled, they’re the dangerous ones. Written with wonderful clarity and a novelist’s sense of scope, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self is a fabulous literary debut.”
  – Victor La Valle, author of Big Machine

“Danielle Evans’s considerable talents are in evidence on every page of this impressive debut. She finds her often surprising dramatic
material in the unexpected asides of modern life, with results that are intense, intelligent, humane, and funny. I look forward to reading
more.”

– Daniel Alarcón, author of Lost City Radio

“Danielle Evans’s stories are fresh, arresting, real. The young women and men in them could be sitting across from you on the subway or strolling past  you on a college campus. And the young woman who brings them to us is a writer to watch.”

 – Martha Southgate, author of The Fall of Rome

“Danielle Evans makes you laugh with recognition while showing you the consequences of human nature. Her knife-sharp wit and tender but unflinching eye create a range of characters who are entirely sympathetic, even as they tumble headlong into their own mistakes.”
    – V.V. Ganeshananthan, author of Love Marriage

“Quietly magnetic, Evans’s voice draws us into richly-charged worlds where innocence isn’t lost but escaped, and where pieces of the past reassemble in the present with the inevitable geometry of kaleidoscope glass. Delivered with a light touch that belies their maturity, these morally complex stories mark the arrival of a gifted new author.”

– Sana Krasikov, author of One More Year

“Wise, funny, startling stories.  Full of hard truths about sex and race in America, and what it’s like to grow up fast in a slow-changing country, this brave collection will make you laugh and clutch your heart at the same time.”

—Eric Puchner, author of Music Through the Floor