Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer
This is my all-time favorite collection. It’s funny, brilliant, full of relatable characters and empathetic misfits. Packer has a way of showing the nuances of large and small cruelties. ‘Brownies’ is a popular, often anthologised example of what I mean, but the titular story and ‘Pita Delicious’ are amazing as well. This rare collection is perfectly even; there are no duds.
Darkness by Bharati Mukherjee
This gem is filled with stories of immigrants, outsiders, microaggressions, and neuroses. The stories challenge received notions of Canadian antiracism and examine gender and intergenerational conflicts in layered, complex ways. My favourites are ‘Isolated Incidents’ and ‘A Father,’ the latter of which is perhaps the most brutal.
The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes
Hughes is most often celebrated for his poetic and activist contributions to the Harlem Renaissance, but his short fiction is equally important. His collection is full of hilarious, biting satire, covering passing, racial fetishes, lynching, and the white gaze. Nearly 100 years old now, it is still eerily timely.
Come Along with Me by Shirley Jackson
There’s much to love about Jackson. Her stories exemplify gutpunches and punchlines. From the classic ‘The Lottery’ to ‘Paranoia’ and ‘The Daemon Lover,’ Jackson is the master of revealing the best kind of darkness.
You Are Free by Danzy Senna
I’m cheating a little by adding a collection I haven’t finished reading yet. But if the rest of Senna’s stories are anything like her novel New People or her equally realistic and creepy story ‘Admission’—which I have taught multiple times—I’m confident that this collection is soon to become a new favourite. What I love most about Senna’s work is her ability to probe the precarious intricacies of race and class with sharp wittiness and turns of absurdity.