Light Skin Gone to Waste
Publication Date: October 15, 2022
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.
News & Reviews
Los Angeles Times – For one award-winning Black Author, light skin was no refuge
Washington Post – 10 award-winning short story collections worth reading
Alta Journal – 15 New Books for October
Black Girl Nerds – 5 Books to Read for National Book Month
The Times Herald Record – Author recounts New York childhood laced with racism in award-winning book
Publisher’s Weekly – Review
New York Journal of Books – Review
Los Angeles Review of Books – The Rules of the Game: On Toni Ann Johnson’s “Light Skin Gone to Waste”
BookPage – Starred Review
Alta – Review
The Royal Gazette – Being Black in a small US town
The Millions – Toni Ann Johnson “It’s More Complicated Than Forgiveness”
Aunt Chloe Lit Mag – “In Their Heads and Hearts”
Independent Book Review – 30 Impressive Indie Books of 2022
October 18th – Bell Canto Books – Long Beach, CA
October 24th – 92nd St. Y w/ Roxane Gay – Virtual
October 29th – Skylight Books (LAUNCH) – Los Feliz, CA
November 1st – Antioch University’s Literary Uprising, Los Angeles – CA
November 2nd – Chevalier’s Books, Los Angeles, CA
November 3rd – The Writer’s Center w/ Zach Powers – Virtual
November 10th – The Center For Fiction w/ Nina Lorez Collins – Brooklyn, NY
November 12th – The Compound Cowork – Brooklyn, NY
November 13th – Watchung Bookstore – Montclair, NJ
November 20th – Roar Shack at 862 LA – Los Angeles, CA
December 4th – Village Well – Culver City, CA
Toni Ann Johnson’s Light Skin Gone to Waste is one of the most engrossing short story collections I’ve read in recent memory. These interconnected stories about a black family living in a predominantly white suburb of New York City are impeccably written, incisive, often infuriating, and unforgettable. At the center of many of these stories is Philip Arrington, a psychologist who tries to reshape the world to his liking as he moves through it, regardless of the ways his actions affect the people in his intimate orbit. With a deft eye for detail, crisp writing, and an uncanny understanding of human frailties, Toni Ann Johnson has created an endlessly interesting American family portrait.
Johnson’s deft handling of generational trauma, colorism and class—along with just the right amount of 1960s and ’70s cultural touchstones, from Tab soda to the Stillman diet to Barry Manilow—makes Light Skin Gone to Waste an engrossing, even groundbreaking read.
A Black girl growing up in a white suburb bears the brunt of her family’s fissures in [Toni Ann] Johnson’s piercing linked collection. . . . Johnson proves herself a fine story writer.
Light Skin Gone to Waste is a tender and unflinching novel about a family in crisis.
Patiently and compassionately, Johnson depicts burgeoning adolescent sexuality with all its attendant angst, heartbreak, and emotional turbulence on an axis of desirability and colorism. There are frame narratives, direct addresses, and unexpected verbal moods, all of which make this collection thrilling, memorable, compelling, and necessary, marked by an accretive narrative power.
Reading Light Skin Gone to Waste will remain with us as a multilayered experience and an exquisite example of the art of contemporary American short fiction.
With its constancy of character, this quietly powerful collection leaves the impression of a novel.
If there is one book you MUST add to your reading list this year, it is Toni Ann Johnson’s Light Skin Gone To Waste.
Light Skin Gone to Waste is a brilliant collection that fully demonstrates Johnson’s craft and artistry. It is a tale of racism, victimization, and narcissism told with wit and beauty, and it takes the reader on a rich emotional journey, ending on a stunning moment of compassion and grace.
Toni Ann Johnson’s vivid and complex understanding of race, colorism, and interracial love in America has allowed her to capture its essence and create life and a sharp new world on the page. In its menacing violences―words spoken and unspoken, actions and expectations―Johnson portrays her characters with marvelous astuteness; her dialogue shimmers with context and emotion; her settings leave you with new memories as if you’ve watched her scenes. A linked story collection, Light Skin Gone to Waste is brilliant.
Light Skin Gone to Waste is a stellar debut, with a chorale of voices that I won’t forget; souls navigating the hatred and hope of the 1960s in an America everyone should read about to remember, and also to think about who this nation is right now. Most impressive are the characters in this book, fathers and wives and daughters so stunning in their particularities, in the way they look at the old world and the new, in the watchful way they see each other, and the women in this book – their absolute ferocity to be known, and loved, made me think about them for days.
Toni Ann Johnson’s Light Skin Gone to Waste is revelatory.
With a melodic meticulousness, Johnson exposes racism and family dysfunction in exquisite detail. Brilliantly written, this multi-faceted, secretly explosive collection transforms the reader.
In these stories, the characters come into focus vividly, as seen through the eyes of loved ones and the glares of the judgmental. Toni Ann Johnson’s visual sharpness and evocative language create the many layers that give these stories texture. The dialogue resonates as these characters navigate moments of peace, hatred, and love. Johnson’s writing strikes the right chords with a skillful touch that mixes humor, tension, and grace.
Award-Winning Fiction Collection Examines the Effects of Racism and Classism on an Upper-Middle Class Black American Family
Los Angeles, CA (May 2022) — Toni Ann Johnson’s Light Skin Gone to Waste (October 2022, University of Georgia Press) features stories that delve into how racist ideas burrow into Black and White families and infect them for generations. This linked collection is inspired by Johnson’s experience growing up in a middle-class Black family living in a White, working-class town in mid-century Upstate New York. Winner of the 2021 Flannery O’Connor Award, the book was selected and edited by Roxane Gay, who said of the collection:
“Toni Ann Johnson’s Light Skin Gone to Waste is one of the most engrossing short story collections I’ve read in recent memory. These interconnected stories about a Black family living in a predominantly White suburb of New York City are impeccably written, incisive, often infuriating, and unforgettable . . . With a deft eye for detail, crisp writing, and an uncanny understanding of human frailties, Toni Ann Johnson has created an endlessly interesting American family portrait.”—Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist
Johnson has been a playwright and screenwriter whose work focuses on race, and yet it was decades before she took on this fictionalized version of her family’s experience. Johnson says, “I didn’t see what was noteworthy about my dad’s experience as a Black psychologist, or my mother’s as a Black female business owner or mine as the perpetual only Black girl. In the last decade, I began to see how our experience contributes to the cultural conversation.”
The stories begin in 1962, with Philip and Velma Arrington’s move to the small town of Monroe. After initial racist resistance, they settle in. Phil joins the tennis club, begins his private practice, and soon has affairs with White women. Velma opens an antique shop and hires a White maid. They have a child, buy new homes, collect art, go skiing, and have overseas adventures. It seems they’ve made it in the White world. However, their daughter Maddie, one of the only Black kids in the town, faces the brunt of the racism her family’s money, education, and light skin can’t protect her from.
As the stories unfold, we learn how childhood trauma, race, class, and colorism have played a part in both Phil and Velma’s development. Simultaneously, we follow how these same effects develop Maddie’s multifaceted identity. The collection is as much about the complexities of race relations as it is about the cause-and-effect parenting has on one’s psychological development. If Maddie is injured by her experience with racism, her parents’ unwillingness to protect her is as much to blame as the racists themselves.
A dazzling collection, Light Skin Gone to Waste, examines race, class, community, family, and the meaning of home.
TONI ANN JOHNSON won the 2021 Flannery O’Connor Award for her linked story collection Light Skin Gone to Waste, selected and edited by Roxane Gay. She’s the author of the novel Remedy for a Broken Angel (2014), which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. Johnson’s novella Homegoing (2021) won Accents Publishing’s inaugural novella contest. She’s a two-time winner of the Humanitas Prize for her screenplays Ruby Bridges (Disney) and Crown Heights (Showtime). Essays and short fiction have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Coachella Review, Hunger Mountain, Callaloo, and many other publications.
If you would like more information or to interview Toni Ann Johnson, please contact Alyssia Gonzalez at email@example.com.