We continued our exploration of the many possibilities for storytelling in the short form. In Toni Ann Johnson’s (Remedy For a Broken Angel) dazzling debut collection, Light Skin Gone to Waste, a Black family, the Arringtons, moves to a small, predominantly white suburb of New York in 1962. The Arrington family—cosmopolitan, sophisticated, and secretly falling apart—is the center of exquisitely crafted, interconnected stories. With vivid character portraits and explosive, layered writing, Johnson creates an unflinching examination of racism and family dysfunction. Writer and literary agent Nina Lorez Collins (What Would Virginia Woolf Do? And Other Questions I Ask Myself As I Attempt to Age Without Apology) joined Johnson for an invigorating conversation about her exploration of race, class, community, family, and the meaning of home.
Light Skin Gone to Waste
By Toni Ann Johnson
Published by University of Georgia Press
In 1962 Philip Arrington, a psychologist with a PhD from Yeshiva, arrives in the small, mostly blue-collar town of Monroe, New York, to rent a house for himself and his new wife. They’re Black, something the man about to show him the house doesn’t know. With that, we’re introduced to the Arringtons: Phil, Velma, his daughter Livia (from a previous marriage), and his youngest, Madeline, soon to be born. They’re cosmopolitan. Sophisticated. They’re also troubled, arrogant, and throughout the linked stories, falling apart.
We follow the family as Phil begins his private practice, as Velma opens her antiques shop, and as they buy new homes, collect art, go skiing, and have overseas adventures. It seems they’ve made it in the white world. However, young Maddie, one of the only Black children in town, bears the brunt of the racism and the invisible barriers her family’s money, education, and determination can’t free her from. As she grows up and realizes her father is sleeping with white women, her mother is violently mercurial, and her half-sister resents her, Maddie must decide who she is despite, or perhaps precisely because of, her family.
Toni Ann Johnson
Toni Ann Johnson
Toni Ann Johnson won the Flannery O’Connor Award for short fiction with her linked story collection Light Skin Gone to Waste, which was selected for the prize and edited by Roxane Gay. She’s an NAACP Image Award nominee for Outstanding Literary Work by a Debut Author for her novel, Remedy For a Broken Angel (Nortia Press, 2014). A novella, Homegoing, released in May of 2021, won Accents Publishing’s inaugural novella contest as well as the Grand Prize for short literary works at the Chanticlear International Book Awards. Johnson won the Miller Audio Prize for prose with a recorded performance of her short story “Time Travel.” Short fiction and essays have appeared in many publications including the L.A. Times, the Emerson Review, Hunger Mountain, Callaloo, and the Coachella Review where her story “Daughtered Out” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She currently teaches fiction and screenwriting at Antioch University Los Angeles where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing.
Nina Lorez Collins
Nina Lorez Collins
Nina Lorez Collins is the Chief Creative Officer for Hello Revel, the events and community platform for women over 40, as well as the founder of The Woolfer, which Revel acquired in 2021. Her book, What Would Virginia Woolf Do? And Other Questions I Ask Myself As I Attempt to Age Without Apology, was published in April 2018. She’s a graduate of Barnard College, has a Masters degree from Columbia in the field of Narrative Medicine, and a long professional background in book publishing, both as a literary scout and then as an agent. Nina is the board chair of the Brooklyn Public Library as well as a trustee of the publishing house Spiegel & Grau. In addition to her work at Revel, she manages the literary estate of her late mother, the filmmaker and writer Kathleen Collins. She has four grown children and lives in Brooklyn.