Debut Authors for Adults

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Many first novels are published every year. Each one battles for media buzz, bookstore placement, and positive reviews. While it's difficult to attract attention for new books, there's no shortage of budding authors who are eager to try. On the other side of the equation, avid readers are always looking for the next great thing. So far 2017 has brought some great new voices to the literary scene, and we will be hearing from more debut authors in the upcoming months. Here are a few of the more compelling recent debut novels.

    Stephanie Powell Watts: No One Is Coming to Save Us

    This novel tells the story of a once-thriving town ravaged by the flight of industry. It has similar themes to The Great Gatsby, but takes place in North Carolina and has African-American protagonists who are chasing the American dream. Another difference is that it tells us more about the women in the narrative than the men. Here's what had to say about it:

    Ayobami Adebayo: Stay with Me

    Ayobami Adebayo, who lives in Ife, Nigeria, has written a compelling novel about the societal pressure to have children in traditional Nigerian society. Stay with Me employs two narrators who present their stories about their struggle with infertility and their relationship. Adebayo, who is 29 years old, has studied with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Margaret Atwood. This extensive interview from the Paris Review tells more about the book and the writer's process.

    Emily Culliton: The Misfortune of Marion Palm

    A woman living in trendy Brooklyn Heights runs away from her seemingly perfect life after her husband’s fidelity has come into question. To complicate matters, she has been embezzling money from her daughters’ private school. A mother who abandons her kids does not usually make a sympathetic heroine, but somehow the reader can really relate to her. Emily Culliton is a PhD candidate at the University of Denver for fiction and earned her MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Here's a great interview with her:

    Hernán Diaz: In the Distance

    This novel tell the story of a young Swedish immigrant who travels eastward across the United States trying to find his brother. Along the way, he meets a slew of interesting characters, including naturalists, criminals, religious fanatics, swindlers, Indians, and lawmen. The book belongs to the Western genre, but not exactly the Old West you remember from the movies. Kirkus calls it "Cormac McCarthy by way of Gabriel García Márquez."

    Diaz is the associate director of the Hispanic Institute at Columbia University and the managing editor of the scholarly journal Revista Hispánica Moderna.

    Brendan Mathews: The World of Tomorrow

    This historical novel revives the spirits of New York’s past. Part of it was written at Edith Wharton's estate, and the author has said that perhaps the ghost of Henry James was there with him. The book centers on three brothers who have migrated to the United States from Ireland around the time of the 1939 New York World's Fair. As NPR states, it's a big story full of small details.

    Sarah Schmidt: See What I Have Done

    Maybe you remember hearing something about a woman named Lizzie Borden, who (allegedly) took an axe and gave her mother 40 whacks. Maybe you don't remember; it was a long time ago.

    Author Sarah Schmidt became obsessed with this story after coming across a pamphlet about the case in a bookstore. She spent 11 years writing her fictional version of the story and even had a sleepover in Borden's childhood bedroom. You can read more about that here:

    Jenny Zhang: Sour Heart

    This story collection is the first offering from Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s Lenny imprint. It focuses on the Chinese-American immigrant experience in New York City. Dunham calls Zhang a cross between Judy Blume and Salvador Dali.

    This piece from Vanity Fair tells how the book came to be published.

Many well-known authors enjoyed big success with their debut novels. Among those who started off well are J.R.R. Tolkien with The Hobbit, Charlotte Bronte with Jane Eyre, Brett Easton Ellis with Less Than Zero, and Stephen King with Carrie. Most of these authors went on to write many more books. Then there were the "one-hit wonders" including Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, and John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces. We'll have to wait and see how the debut authors I’ve listed fare over time.

Click here for more Adult Debut Fiction titles.