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Book Cover for: Witness: Stories, Jamel Brinkley

Witness: Stories

Jamel Brinkley

Reader Score


80% of readers

recommend this book

Critic Reviews


Based on 13 reviews on

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Nominee:Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence -Fiction (2024)
Finalist:Kirkus Prize -Fiction (2023)

A Best Book of the Year: The New York Times Book Review, NPR, The New Yorker, Los Angeles Times, Oprah Daily, Elle, The Boston Globe, Kirkus Reviews, BookPage, Electric Literature, Library Journal, Commonweal Magazine

A Finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the Aspen Words Literary Prize, and the Kirkus Prize

Long-listed for the Joyce Carol Oates Prize, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and the Story Prize

A Must-Read: The New York Times, NPR, New York, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, Today Show, The Boston Globe, Shondaland, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chicago Review of Books, Essence, Literary Hub, The Millions, The Root

"Exhilarating . . . Brinkley is a writer whose versatility knows no boundaries . . . A gift of the highest quality." --Mateo Askaripour, The New York Times Book Review

From National Book Award finalist Jamel Brinkley, Witness is an elegant, insistent narrative of actions taken and not taken.

What does it mean to really see the world around you--to bear witness? And what does it cost us, both to see and not to see?

In these ten stories, each set in the changing landscapes of contemporary New York City, a range of characters--from children to grandmothers to ghosts--live through the responsibility of perceiving and the moral challenge of speaking up or taking action. Though they strive to connect with, stand up for, care for, and remember one another, they often fall short, and the structures they build around these ambitions and failures shape their futures as well as the legacies and prospects of their communities and their city.

In its portraits of families and friendships lost and found, the paradox of intimacy, the long shadow of grief, and the meaning of home, Witness enacts its own testimony. Here is a world where fortunes can be made and stolen in just a few generations, where strangers might sometimes show kindness while those we trust--doctors, employers, siblings--too often turn away, where joy comes in snatches: flowers on a windowsill, dancing in the street, glimpsing your purpose, change on the horizon.

With prose as upendingly beautiful as it is artfully, seamlessly crafted, Jamel Brinkley offers nothing less than the full scope of life and death and change in the great, unending drama of the city.

Book Details

  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publish Date: Aug 1st, 2023
  • Pages: 240
  • Language: English
  • Dimensions: 8.30in - 5.70in - 1.10in - 0.75lb
  • EAN: 9780374607036
  • Categories: Short Stories (single author)World Literature - American - 21st CenturyAfrican American & Black - General

About the Author

Brinkley, Jamel: - Jamel Brinkley is the author of A Lucky Man, which won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence and was a finalist for the National Book Award, the John Leonard Prize, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, A Public Space, Ploughshares, and The Best American Short Stories. He was raised in the Bronx and Brooklyn and currently teaches at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Critics’ reviews

Praise for this book

"A tour de force . . . An extraordinary gathering of stories that confirms Brinkley's place among the most moving, compelling and virtuosic practitioners of the short form."
--Joe Moshenska, The Guardian

"Superb . . . A must-read."
--Bethanne Patrick, Los Angeles Times

"One of the finest young writers working today . . . Brinkley is a skilled, patient prose stylist and deft writer of character who isn't afraid to engage with the difficult moral complexity of contemporary life. Reading Witness will make you consider your place in the world as both a bystander and a participant."
--Isle McElroy, Vulture

"Packed with incident, insight and emotion . . . Supremely accomplished . . . [with] verve, poise and moments of unexpected beauty . . . Brinkley is shaping up to be one of the most impressive contemporary practitioners of short stories."
--Malcolm Forbes, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

"Unassuming, funny, warm and generous with a sharp undertow of spiky intelligence . . . [Brinkley] constructs the cityscapes of his stories with such deliberate, exacting love and care."
--Lynn Steger Strong, Los Angeles Times

"[Witness] contains stories about people who choose to speak on behalf of others--or fail to do so. Brinkley is immensely talented, making this one of the year's most anticipated works of American fiction."
--Michael Schaub, NPR

"These brilliant and heart-wrenching stories, bound by the act of bearing witness, capture moments of loss and grief."
--Lauren LeBlanc, The Boston Globe

"Burst[ing] with life . . . Thought-provoking, entertaining, explosive. Brinkley is an incredible talent."
--Harlan Coben, Today Show

"Short stories that in their depth of feeling, perception, and sense of place affirm their author's bright promise . . . [They] carry a rich veneer worthy of such exemplars of the form as Chekhov, Eudora Welty, Alice Munro, and James Alan McPherson . . . After just two collections, Brinkley may already be a grand master of the short story."
--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"In his dazzling sophomore collection, Brinkley digs into the promises and dangers of intimacy and the costs of speaking up or staying silent . . . Throughout, Brinkley crafts unforgettable portraits, humming with barely restrained tension, of Black men and women exploring what it means to be part of families and communities that are awash in hope and disappointment alike. These intimate vignettes have the power to move readers."
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Exceptional . . . [Witness journeys] deep into the human heart with precise language and a generous spirit."
--Bookpage (starred review)

"Remarkable . . . Offer[s] compelling explorations of life's borderlands and the quietly stunning revelations that can be found there."

"Brinkley keenly explores [his characters'] predicaments with grace and wit."
--Mark Athitakis, Los Angeles Times

"[Witness] probes the nature and cost of doing something. Brinkley's short fiction can be found in just about all of the biggest short story outlets, and his previous collection was nominated for a National Book Award. So, I think it's safe to say we can expect great things from this one as well."
--Shelbi Polk, Shondaland

"Portraits of intimacy and friendship, grief and mourning . . . Expect this to be one of the standout collections of the year."
--Dan Sheehan, Literary Hub

"Jamel Brinkley is one of the best story writers we have. Witness is a book of psychological acuity, of graceful sentences, of devastation and heart. Read everything this man writes--and know the world anew."
--Justin Torres, author of Blackouts

"Jamel Brinkley reminds one of the iconic short-story writers Edward P. Jones and Mavis Gallant. This is a dazzling collection by a masterful storyteller."
--Yiyun Li, author of The Book of Goose

"In Witness, Jamel Brinkley explores the longings and fears of his characters with a tenderness and a generosity of spirit that make the reader hurt when they hurt, and rejoice in life's surprising moments of joy alongside them."
--Angela Flournoy, author of The Turner House

"Jamel Brinkley's sentences are daggers. He writes about the shifting intimacies of community and love with wit and warmth."
--Raven Leilani, author of Luster

"We call up the names of short story greats to describe Jamel Brinkley's writing, but his stories are lucidly and assuredly his own. His seemingly effortless style is recognizable within a paragraph. His evocation of character and place is second-to-none. There is all the involvedness and complexity of a novel in each story, which makes this collection so abundant and wise. A brilliant writer."
--Caoilinn Hughes, author of The Wild Laughter

"These are stories of rare beauty and insight, that glitter with humor and hurt, written with lambent clarity and tenderness about family and marriage, love and brokenness. Brinkley has the same sure and affecting understanding of purpose and loss, of human temporality--our meanings in and out of time--that Edward P. Jones does, the close, compelling texture and wisdom of Mavis Gallant, and an honoring of and commitment to mystery that is his own."
--David Hayden, author of Darker With the Lights On