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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Neighbors and Other Stories

Narrator: Emana Rachelle

ISBN: 9781666654790

Publisher: Dreamscape Media

Grove Press

Publication Date: 02/13/2024

Format: Audio

My Rating: 5 Stars (ALC)

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 As much a social and historical document as it is a taut, engrossing collection, Neighbors is an exceptional literary feat from a crucial once-lost figure of letters.

My Review

A crucial literary life cut short at just 22 years old, Diane Oliver, a native of Charlotte, NC, died in 1966 in a car accident in Iowa City, Iowa—A remarkable talent, a devastating loss for African American literature.

However, she left a collection of essential, powerful, and timely short stories, NEIGHBORS AND OTHER STORIES, with a brilliant introduction from Tayari Jones, New York Times best-selling author—out Feb 13, 2024, by Grove Atlantic.

Diane published four short stories in her lifetime and two posthumously, all based on her experiences growing up in the South, the Black middle class of Charlotte, North Carolina, during the 1940s and 1950s

Before popular movies like Jordan Peele's breakout movies "Get Out," "Us," and "THEM" —there was a young writer who wrote about ordinary families, racism, and more from Black communities in the South. She may not have been well-known worldwide until cultural critic and essayist Michael A. Gonzales discovered her writing.

Oliver can undoubtedly be added to the list of authors such as Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Ann Petry, James Baldwin, Tayari Jones and more.

NEIGHBORS is an extraordinary collection of moving, heart-breaking, essential, insightful, powerful, and chilling stories with dark humor and thought-provoking takeaway messages. You will appreciate the honesty and views of everyday families of color from different perspectives. Each story is a gem you will treasure. Some may resonate with you more than others; however, it is hard to pick a favorite as each is unique.

1. Neighbors

2. The Closet on the Top Floor

3. Before Twilight

4. Health Service

5. Mint Juleps Not Served Here

6. Key to the City

7. The Visitor

8. Banago Kalt

9. When the Apples Are Ripe

10. Traffic Jam

11. No Brown Sugar in Anybody's Milk

12. Frozen Voices

13. Our Trip to the Nature Museum

14. Spiders Cry Without Tears

"This breathtaking collection of short stories is a marvel. When I was a young writer, I remember receiving this advice from one of my peers: "Imagine that the world as we know it is over. Now imagine the people of the future trying to sort out the wreckage. Well, that's what books are for—to let the new people know what the hell happened." I had almost forgotten that scrap of undergraduate wisdom until I read the first few pages of this book. Neighbors evoke the feeling of sorting through a time capsule sealed and buried in the yard of a Southern African Methodist Episcopal church in the early sixties. The political issues of the day—namely racial integration—permeate the narratives, as this is the most significant social shift since emancipation. Oliver explores the changing America while beautifully documenting the culture of Black Americans living in the South. She remembers the domestic workers who leave their own children home alone to keep house for rich white folks. Boy coats with raccoon collars were all the rage for the wealthy, while poor folks took pride in that their simple clothes were cleaned and ironed. "Up North" and "Chicago" are both shorthand for a promised land where a person could earn a decent wage and send her children to college. This is Oliver's world, and she shines a light in every corner. Tayari Jones: Sorting through the Wreckage: The Stories of Diane Oliver THE PARIS REVIEW

Lyrical and bold, a haunting debut story collection that follows various characters as they navigate the day-to-day perils of Jim Crow racism in African American families in situations from a master storyteller. Oliver's perceptive and insightful stories continue to echo into the present day.

NEIGHBORS is an ideal book pick for Black History Month and should be required reading in schools today. Oliver is a striking talent who deserves to be celebrated.

AUDIOBOOK: I highly recommend the audiobook narrated by Emana Rachelle, which brings the characters alive for an engaging and entertaining performance.

I grew up in the South and even the Charlotte, NC, area in the 50s-60s. These significant stories rang true then and, unfortunately, today.

Thanks to Dreamscape Media and NetGalley for the opportunity to listen to an advanced audio copy for an honest opinion.

by Michael A. Gonzales

@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

Pub Date: Feb 13, 2024

My Rating: 4.5 Stars (rounded to 5 Stars)


“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)

"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)

“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

About the Author

Diane Oliver was born in Charlotte, North Carolina and after graduating from high school, she attended Women’s College (which later became the University of North Carolina at Greensboro) and was the Managing Editor of The Carolinian, the student newspaper. She published four short stories in her lifetime and three more posthumously: ‘Key to the City’ and ‘Neighbors’ published in The Sewanee Review in 1966; ‘Health Service’, ‘Traffic Jam’ and ‘Mint Juleps Not Served Here’ published in Negro Digest in 1965, 1966 and 1967 respectively; ‘The Closet on the Top Floor’ published in Southern Writing in the Sixties in 1966; and ‘“No Brown Sugar in Anybody’s Milk”’ published in The Paris Review in 2023. ‘Neighbors’ was a recipient of an O. Henry Award in 1967. Diane began graduate work at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop and was awarded the MFA degree posthumously days after her death, at the age of 22, in a motorcycle accident in 1966. READ MORE THE BITTER SOUTHERNOR







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