Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Neighbors and Other Stories

by Diane Oliver Introduction by Tayari Jones

A bold and haunting debut story collection that follows various characters as they navigate the day-to-day perils of Jim Crow racism from Diane Oliver, a missing figure in the canon of twentieth-century African American literature, with an introduction by Tayari Jones

  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 320
  • Publication Date February 13, 2024
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6131-4
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $27.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Publication Date February 13, 2024
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6132-1
  • US List Price $27.00

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 As much a social and historical document as it is a taut, engrossing collection, Neighbors is an exceptional literary feat from a crucial once-lost figure of letters.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:

“At a moment when short stories seem less regular launchpads for long careers than occasional meteors, reading these is like finding hunks of gold bullion buried in your backyard . . . These stories detail basic routines of getting through difficult days, but then often deliver a massive wallop.”—Alexandra Jacobs, New York Times

“Oliver’s perceptive, insightful work reflects great talent and ambition. The ease and elegance of her prose are striking, as is her faith in her readers’ intelligence—the certainty that they will see glints of subtext without the need for explication.”—Jackie Thomas-Kennedy, Washington Post

“These short stories confront living through racism in Jim Crow America in intimate, often chilling tales. An engrossing book by a talent lost too young.”—People, “Best Books to Read in February”

“Exhibits a unique delicacy in chronicling Black life in the nineteen-fifties and sixties—especially in the South amid the civil rights movement . . . Oliver delves into subtleties of class, focussing on characters such as a doctor’s second wife and a daydreaming maid. At their best, the stories let ideas take shape gradually, making close observation the cornerstone of their politics.”New Yorker

“Put this collection of short stories . . . on your shelf alongside Toni and Zora—yes, it’s that good.”—Marion Winik, Oprah Daily

Neighbors and Other Stories offers an amalgamation of tales—some harrowing—told by a writer who knew all too well what it meant to be racialized. Oliver’s insights give the powerful storytelling that much more punch.”—Christian Science Monitor

“Though I mourn the counterfactual of what Oliver might have become if longer lived, we are fortunate to know of her work now, in the perpetuity of fiction.”—Lauren Michelle Jackson, BOMB, “Editor’s Choice”

“Remarkable . . . Oliver was certainly serious and politically aware, but these qualities are subsumed in her tender, humanist vision . . . In almost every case in Neighbors, despair is quite literally only half the story. A great deal of resilience is on show too . . . Oliver has a strong sense of character and a fine ear for dialogue, along with an innate sense of how to structure a story . . . Just as the vexed subject of race remains central to the American story, even today Diane Oliver’s precocious and brilliant talent hasn’t aged at all.”—Damon Galgut, Times Literary Supplement

“Oliver’s subject is the black female experience in 1960s America, in the period when racial segregation was illegal but prejudices remained ingrained—but the tales succeed for their literary qualities, not their subject matter . . . We can only imagine what wonders Oliver might have produced had she lived, but the precocious talent on display here is cause enough for celebration.”—John Self, The Guardian

“Despite having died at just 22 years old in 1966, Diane Oliver created remarkable, prescient work. Collected here for the first time (with an intro from the one and only Tayari Jones!) Oliver’s stories are intimate snapshots of African Americans navigating the tensions and dangers of a rapidly changing world . . . The core issues in these stories resonate still, and I’m grateful that Grove Atlantic has given Oliver’s work new life.”—Arianna Rebolini, Bustle

“To read Diane Oliver’s stories is to be doubly wrenched—first by their unflinching view of the adversity faced by her Black characters in various desegregated environments, and second by the realization of how much more the author might have produced if she hadn’t died so young in the 1960s. This remarkable posthumous collection offers much more than a time capsule—it gives a glimpse at what could have been a towering literary legacy.”—David Varno, Publishers Weekly, “PW Picks”

“Pin-sharp prose, keen observation and a deep emotional engagement with the struggles of black lives in the Jim Crow era of the American South are the mainstays of this remarkable collection.”—Daily Mail

“Extraordinary . . . The author’s heartfelt and resplendent writing is loaded with an earthy complexity reminiscent of Zora Neale Hurston—indeed, novelist Tayari Jones names Oliver along with Hurston, Toni Morrison, and Ann Petry as “literary foremothers” in her introduction. Oliver’s brilliant stories belong in the American canon.”Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“A remarkable collection of Jim Crow–era stories from a major talent . . . Oliver’s published and unpublished work testifies both to her immense raw talent as a young writer and to the major figure she might have become if she’d had the chance to develop. Her stories deal with the everyday lives of Black families of all classes as they contend with issues such as segregation, poverty, and prejudice and their own hopes for the future . . . With a crystalline clarity and finely attuned ear, Oliver depicts her subjects with elegance and profound understanding.”Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“This first full story collection reveals her to be an adventurous writer who deftly captured the pervasive daily pressures of living while Black in the midst of white-dominant society . . . The stories read like tightly wrought suspense with an edge toward horror, and Oliver uses wide-ranging forms to create riveting effects . . . Oliver uses subtlety and nuance like a knife. These stories reveal a writer who was willing to explore and stretch, telling honest, bared-open stories of her time and now of ours.”—Library Journal, Starred Review

“Oliver’s marvelous, posthumously published short story collection illustrates life in the Jim Crow South. These 14 vivid, transportive tales, some never before published, portray deeply layered characters in scenes that convey the heart-rending, life-threatening reality of segregated America . . . A necessary addition to the American canon and every library collection.”—Booklist, Starred Review

“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

“Astute, brilliantly observed, these timeless stories are remarkable. It’s all the more poignant to know the writer died at such a heartbreakingly young age. There’s a sense of gratitude that you feel reading these stories, that the stories have survived, that Diane Oliver’s life continues down a different road.”—Jackie Kay, author of Red Dust Road