The best new writers make us reevaluate the way we look at literature, genre, and our world. In this sense, 2014 was a great year for many debut writers. Here is a list of some authors with first books out this year who we believe will be major literary forces in the years to come. They all bring new styles and perspectives that are already changing the shape of contemporary literature. While not all encompassing, this list presents some of the year’s notables. Take a look at their debuts, and you can say that you read them when.
D. Foy’s debut novel Made to Break was released in March to wide acclaim. In it, a group of friends journeys to a Tahoe cabin for drug-fueled New Year’s festivities. But when a harsh storm sets in and someone in the group is severely injured, the book takes a grim turn. In her review, our own Kim Winternheimer writes: “We all have old wounds, we all carry friendship baggage, but Foy handles this unwieldy and careless bunch with such deft handling, you are privy to a great deal more than first meets the eye.”
Eimear McBride’s debut novel A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, from Coffee House Press, has already received a number of accolades. It took Eimear McBride nine years to find a publisher for her novel, which explores familial relationships and trauma in unique and astounding prose.
Roxane Gay is already a well-known literary force, and she did enter 2014 with a published collection of stories. However, with her first novel An Untamed State and New York Times bestselling debut essay collection Bad Feminist out this year, she has solidified her place as a major voice in multiple genres.
Iraq war veteran Phil Klay’s debut collection of stories Redeployment examines the ramifications and realities of the war for soldiers, both when they are deployed and when they return home. Redeployment won The National Book Award for fiction and The New York Times called the collection “the best thing written so far on what the war did to people’s souls.”
The tales in Julia Elliott’s debut collection The Wilds possess an unmistakably modern texture while subverting genre stereotypes. While her stories contain elements of sci-fi, Southern gothic, and satire, they are, more than anything, Julia Elliott stories—a term that we hope will come into widespread use in the coming years. Kim Winternheimer writes: “The stories in Julia Elliott’s debut collection The Wilds are like objects in a curiosities shop: grotesque, elegant, and fascinating.”
Anne Valente’s story collection By Light We Knew Our Names draws on historical events, the scientific workings of nature, and pure magic as it explores the innermost workings of its characters. Valente paves new fictional routes to familiar human territory.
The debate about the line between fiction and nonfiction shows no signs of relenting, and Kerry Howley’s Thrown, a book of nonfiction with a fictional narrator, is in itself a statement about these often-hazy genre lines. Editor Andrew Wetzel calls it “an ecstatic gutshot of literary journalism.”