“At the root of my work is concern over all the lost voices we’re not hearing.” -Kalisha Buckhanon
Kalisha Buckhanon’s celebrated novels Speaking of Summer, Solemn, Conception and school, library, and teen favorite, Upstate, have had her hailed as a “timeless voice for a new generation” (School Library Journal). For institutions, campuses, groups, and media wishing to spark conversations on progress through arts and education, avoiding or coping with the criminal justice system, or advocating for Black women and privileging women’s support structures, they will find fruitful material in her books and a rich leader in her talks. She also gives publishing seminars and writing workshops.
Essence introduced her at age 27 as one of “Three Writers to Watch.” Her publishing career began with the auction of Upstate, her tale of young lovers separated by the New York prison system. Upstate is one of the first National Book Foundation “Literature for Justice” titles, an American Library Association ALEX Award best adult book for young adults, a New York Public Library’s “Best Books for Teens”, the only book to receive a Terry McMillan Young Author Award from the icon and a Hurston-Wright Foundation Debut Fiction nominee. Noted actor Chadwick Boseman co-narrates the audiobook which won the Audie Award in Literary Fiction. People, Elle, Marie Claire, Essence, Chicago Tribune, Toronto Sun and Time Out London are among the media who praised the novel, also published in the UK and France.
Her follow-ups Conception and Solemn present portraits of girlhood in America with deep complexities of race and class. Speaking of Summer portrays a Harlem woman’s search for her twin sister, a narrative testament to women’s wills to survive threats of physical violence in the present and emotional hauntings of the past. It has been listed as a “Best Of” for 40 major media outlets such as Essence, O Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Ms., TIME, BBC, Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, USA Today, NBC News.com, LitHub and more.
As a special guest of both adult and youth audiences, Kalisha has been honored by leading institutions including the American Library Association, National Book Foundation and Friends of American Writers. Places she has spoken on writing as power and process, Black women’s arts and culture, and moving young people to succeed include: American Writers Museum, Center for Black Literature at CUNY-Medgar Evers, NYU’s Institute of African-American Affairs, Harlem Arts Salons, Northwestern University, University of Chicago, New York Public Libraries, Chicago Public Libraries, Brooklyn Public Library, National Book Club Conference, Literature For All of Us, and the National Council of Teachers of English.
Kalisha’s life story is testimony to the power of the arts, education and communities to beat the odds of structural racism, sexism and predicted socioeconomic statistics. She graduated into Phi Beta Kappa from University of Chicago with a B.A. and later M.A. in English Language and Literature, and from The New School in New York City she has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. As a Sisters in Crime member, Kalisha was a commentator for Investigation Discovery Channel, TV One and Black Entertainment Television where she discussed true crime cases impacting women on such shows as “Deadly Affairs,” “For My Man” and “Criminals at Work.” She has also appeared extensively as a radio guest—WVON Chicago, BBC London, NPR’s “848 with Vanessa Bush”, WBAI’s “Dreamleapers with Harriette Cole”, WNYC’s “All of It with Alison Stewart”, WNYE’s “Writers on Writing” and more. Kalisha writes about arts, culture, women, and justice at her blog Negression.com.Download Bio
Speaking of SummerA Novel
On a cold December evening, Autumn Spencer’s twin sister, Summer, walks to the roof of their shared Harlem brownstone and is never seen again. The door to the roof is locked, and the snow holds only one set of footprints. Faced with authorities indifferent to another missing Black woman, Autumn must pursue the search for her sister all on her own. With her friends and neighbors, Autumn pretends to hold up through the crisis. But the loss becomes too great, the mystery too inexplicable, and Autumn starts to unravel, all the while becoming obsessed with the various murders of local women and the men who kill them, thinking their stories and society’s complacency toward them might shed light on what really happened to her sister. In Speaking of Summer, critically acclaimed author Kalisha Buckhanon has created a fast-paced story of urban peril and victim invisibility, and the fight to discover the complicated truths at the heart of every family.
St. Martin's Press
Solemn Redvine is a precocious Mississippi girl who senses a nearby baby may be her half-sibling: the outcome of her father’s mistakes with a married woman who lives in their mobile home community. When her father’s next mistake – a robbery – lands Solemn in a group home for troubled girls, she meets a Chicago delinquent who wants to escape. An Essence, Bustle, Hello Beautiful, Deep South, and Citizen-Times Reading List Pick.
St. Martin's Griffin
Told by a young mother in Chicago and her unborn child, Conception narrates the true love affairs and comings-of-ages of Black women across several eras of history. Winner of a Friends of American Writers Award in Adult Literature, one of School Library Journal’s Best Adult Books for High School Students and included in the ALA’s Young Adult Library Services Association list of Best Books for Young Adults 2006.
St. Martin's Griffin
Upstate tells the story of Antonio and Natasha, Harlem lovers torn apart when Antonio is convicted of a crime within his family. Their 10-year romantic saga lives through hopeful letters which change their lives. Winner of an American Library Association (ALA) ALEX Award and Audie Award in Literary Fiction (audiobook), a Hurston-Wright Foundation Debut Fiction nominee, on New York Public Library’s List of Best Books for Teens, in the ALA Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) list of Best Books for Young Adults, and a National Book Foundation Literature for Justice title
Negression This is a celebration of Black women’s collective cultural and societal contributions, amidst historical resilience to beat tremendous odds, to empower and encourage all women everywhere.
Upstate: Young People, Building Achievement, Preventing Mass Incarceration Kalisha visits schools and criminal justice, activist and community organizations to inspire students, activists and parents to overcome past experiences with the criminal justice system and prevent entry to it altogether. Takeaway exercises focus on finding strengths and future goals to motivate.
“Speaking Our Summers”: Women, Safety, Support This program creates a safe space for campuses, institutions and more to learn and discuss Kalisha’s findings, activism and lived experiences behind her recent novel Speaking of Summer, praised in Kirkus Reviews for how her portrait of “grief, fragmented memories, and inner turmoil all synthesize current scientific research on how people cope with traumatic experiences and might seek to heal.”
Check out a feature on Kalisha Buckhanon on The Chicago Tribune.
Listen to Kalisha Buckhanon on WNYC’s “All of It.”
Read O: The Oprah Magazine’s review of Speaking of Summer.
Read The Washington Post’s review of Solemn.
Read The Washington Posts’s review of Conception.
Read People Magazine’s review of Upstate.
Check out a feature on Kalisha Buckhanon on The Guardian.
Teachers, activists, campuses, correctional facilities: Download the Upstate Teacher’s Guide.
– Jonathan Odell, author of The Healing
“Kalisha Buckhanon has no problem taking readers into the lives of those we often pass by.”
- Essence Magazine
“A gifted young novelist.”
- Washington Post Book World
Praise for Speaking of Summer
"A young woman who has become a major American storyteller."
— Sapphire, author of The Kid and PUSH, adapted to the Academy Award-winning film Precious
"Speaking of Summer gives us a powerful song about what it means to survive as a woman in America."
— Jesmyn Ward, National Book Award-winning author of Sing, Unburied, Sing and Salvage the Bones
"Novels of psychological suspense often employ unreliable narrators—think Gone Girl or Shutter Island—but Buckhanon, who’s also known for her work as an on-air true crime expert, employs the device not to keep readers off-balance, but rather to evoke Autumn’s fragility and raise universal questions about mental illness, racism, and love."
— Tayari Jones, Women’s Prize Winner for Fiction-winning author of An American Marriage
"Kalisha Buckhanon's Speaking of Summer is that rarest of books--a culturally crucial literary novel that contains the raw, beating heart of a thriller. Buckhanon juggles themes of race and ethnicity, mental health and addiction, along with sibling loyalty and rivalry."
— Jenny Milchman, Mary Higgins Clark Award-winning author of Cover of Snow
"Buckhanon unravels a powerful story that examines violence, race and grief."
— Time Magazine
"Buckhanon understands the complexities of trauma. Her portrait of Autumn’s grief, fragmented memories, and inner turmoil all synthesize current scientific research on how people cope with traumatic experiences and might seek to heal."
— Kirkus Reviews
Praise for Upstate
"Heartbreaking and true. I’d read it again just for the power of the language."
— Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina
"The moving and compelling story gives voice to young black America."
— TNT Magazine
"A heart-breaking depiction of a situation that faces many young Black people in the USA and Britain today."
— New Nation
"It’s important, gut-wrenching and possibly the best insight into the mentality of an American teenage culture… a book that’s impossible to forget."
— Daily Record