Discussion Guide: Heads of the Colored People

Discussion Guide: Heads of the Colored People

Reflection Questions for Adult Readers

DC Reads is a DC Public Library literacy program that promotes reading for pleasure through citywide celebrations that focus on one book for teens and adults. This year, the Library is delighted to read with you Heads of the Colored People, the debut short story collection by Nafissa Thompson-Spires. DC Reads festivities will take place throughout May 2019. Learn more about DC Reads and the related 2019 events here.

About the book

Longlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction, this collection of candid stories considers black identity and citizenship in contemporary America. Through portraits of fiercely unique characters, Nafissa Thompson-Spires asks readers to examine how race politics impact how we think and feel in our bodies.

About the author
Nafissa Thompson-Spires earned a PhD in English from Vanderbilt and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois. Her work has appeared in Story Quarterly, Lunch Ticket, East Bay Review, Compose, Blinders, FLOW, The Feminist Wire, among other publications. She is a 2016 fellow of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop.

Discussion questions
The following questions encourage readers to reflect on each of book's stories and their main themes.

"Heads of the Colored People: Four Fancy Sketches, Two Chalk Outlines, and No Apology"

  • How does the unnamed narrator challenge the reader’s perceptions of the story and its characters?
  • Which character stood out to you the most and why?
  • What “apology” is being referred to in the title?

 "Suicide, Watch"

  • How does social media affect Jilly and her perception of herself?
  • Can you identify any moments where Jilly revealed her true self?
  • How is suicide portrayed in this story?

"The Necessary Changes Have Been Made"

  • DIY tells Randolph, “Sometimes the problem is the environment; sometimes you are the environment.” How does this relate to Randolph?
  • What does the story’s ending reveal about Randolph and Isabela’s conflict?

"Whisper to a Scream"

  • How does Raina react to body shaming in this story? How does this relate to her ASMR videos?
  • How do you perceive Carmen’s relationship to her daughter? What could she do different or better?
  • What is the role of Kevin in this story? Is Raina’s fear of him justified?

"Belles Lettres"

  • What is at the root of Lucinda and Monica’s dispute?
  • What do you think changed their relationship by the end of the story?

"Not Today, Marjorie"

  • Why is Marjorie angry?
  • What, if anything, could have improved Marjorie’s experience at the DMV?
  • Discuss the imagery related to religion in this story. How does Marjorie’s faith relate to her ability to cope?

"The Body’s Defenses Against Itself"

  • How does Fatima perceive the new woman in her yoga class? What are the similarities and differences between this perception and herself?
  • What does the story tell us about Fatima’s experience of her body?

"This Todd"

  • Is Chelsea right when she tells Kim “You always like to be in control”? Give examples to support your argument.
  • What is Kim seeking in her relationships with “Todds”?

"Fatima, the Biloquist: A Transformation Story"

  • What do you think drew Fatima to Violet? To Rolf?
  • How does this version of Fatima differ from the Fatima we meet in “Belles Lettres”? In “The Body’s Defenses Against Itself”?
  • Give examples of how Fatima code-switches to conform to her surroundings.

"A Conversation about Bread"

  • This story is not a conversation about bread. What is the conversation about?
  • How did you perceive Eldwin’s story? How would you change it?
  • How does the white gaze play a role in this story?

"The Subject of Consumption"

  • How does the gaze of the other affect the story’s characters?
  • Why does Ryan rebel against Lisbeth? Do you think they can reconcile?
  • How did you perceive Mike’s role in the story?

"Wash Clean the Bones"

  • Discuss Alma’s nightmares and how they embody her waking fears. Do you think her fears would be different if she didn’t work at a hospital?
  • Who are the “so many bodies in Alma’s everyday life”?
  • Why does Alma feel she can’t keep her son safe?

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