A remarkable talent far ahead of her time, Diane Oliver died in 1966 at the age of 22, leaving behind these crisply told and often chilling tales that explore race and racism in 1950s and 60s America. In this first and only collection by a masterful storyteller finally taking her rightful place in the canon, Oliver’s insightful stories reverberate into the present day.
There’s the nightmarish “The Closet on the Top Floor” in which Winifred, the first Black student at her newly integrated college, starts to physically disappear; “Mint Juleps not Served Here” where a couple living deep in a forest with their son go to bloody lengths to protect him; “Spiders Cry without Tears,” in which a couple, Meg and Walt, are confronted by prejudices and strains of interracial and extramarital love; and the high tension titular story that follows a nervous older sister the night before her little brother is set to desegregate his school.
These are incisive and intimate portraits of African American families in everyday moments of anxiety and crisis that look at how they use agency to navigate their predicaments. As much a social and historical document as it is a taut, engrossing collection, Neighbors is an exceptional literary feat from a crucial once-lost figure of letters.
Praise for Neighbors:
“In Neighbors and Other Stories, the late Diane Oliver writes of Civil Rights-era domestic life, racial justice, and personal intimacies with such beautiful self-possession. Full of keen observations, crisp prose, and astute social commentary, this is a collection overflowing with complexities and vigor, from a brilliant talent we lost much too soon.”—Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
“The publication of Diane Oliver’s Neighbors and Other Stories is an important event in African American and American letters, a restoration of an extraordinarily gifted young writer’s work to our ongoing literary conversation. The solidity of the prose and the intimately drawn people in these stories results in an eeriness and a forcefulness that cannot be denied. This robust collection is an eloquent and inventive response to the hardships and dilemmas caused by the nightmare of American racism.”—Jamel Brinkley, author of Witness
“Diane Oliver wrote with audacity, wit, and a wisdom beyond her years, fearlessly switching the lens to take in her world and the intimate lives of women and girls passing through it. I want to press a copy of Neighbors into the hands of every Black writer and reader I know, so that we might marvel together at these gifts she left us.”—Dawnie Walton, author of The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
“Direct and unromantic, what a glory of education Oliver gives us in craft, in the miraculous depiction of ordinary life, of enduring in love, family, and faith inside an insidious and voracious system, each sentence constructed to pass a reader deeper into the weaved world, rather than out of it. Each narrative resounds full-bodied and striking, bent on rendering the truths of the moment precisely. Oliver is indisputably a master. What woe this talent be stripped from us so early; what blessing this gift of stories remains.”—Dantiel W. Moniz, author of Milk Blood Heat
“Intelligent, brazen, voracious, Diane Oliver is nobody’s ghost. Here you will discover a blazing, furious writer who burns in voice and vision, formidable in her genius. Oliver’s masterful style delivers revelation after revelation. Against the tragic loss of her life, let us raise her enduring and generous gifts high.”—Rachel Eliza Griffiths, author of Promise
“Oliver’s naturalistic prose feels as creepy as Shirley Jackson’s in her infamous tale of a small town and its annual rite in ‘The Lottery.’ While Jackson’s story was fiction — yet still upset many readers — the Jim Crow racism depicted in Oliver’s stories was real. Her style is packed with complex ideas told simply, but never as simply as ‘protest fiction’ . . . Without a doubt, if the brilliant “Neighbors” is any indication, her literary voice should’ve been as inspiring to aspiring writers as Zora Neale Hurston’s or James Baldwin’s.”—Michael Gonzales in The Bitter Southerner