Light Skin Gone to Waste


Light Skin Gone to Waste


A dazzling collection that examines race, class, community, family, and the meaning of home

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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'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.

—Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist

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.

—Natashia Deón, author of The Perishing and GRACE

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 multifaceted, secretly explosive collection transforms the reader.

—Cynthia Bond, New York Times best-selling author of Ruby

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.

—Susan Straight, author of national best-sellers Mecca and In the Country of Women

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.

—Ravi Howard, author of Driving the King and Like Trees, Walking

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.


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.

—Publishers Weekly

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.

—LA Review of Books

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.

—New York Journal of Books

With its constancy of character, this quietly powerful collection leaves the impression of a novel.

—Washington Post

Toni Ann Johnson’s deft handling of generational trauma, colorism, and class makes Light Skin Gone to Waste an engrossing, even groundbreaking read.


Though each story can stand on its own, the impact of the whole is a gut punch.

—Foreword Reviews

The heterogeneity of form and modes of narration offers nimbleness, flexibility, and the ability to engage a wide cast of characters while still being sensitive to how they navigate the world. 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.

—Alta Journal


NAACP Image Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People


Impressive Indie Books, Independent Book Review

About the Author/Editor

TONI ANN JOHNSON is the author of Homegoing, a novella, and the novel Remedy for a Broken Angel, which earned an NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Literary Work by a Debut Author. She is a two- time winner of the Humanitas Prize for her screenplays Ruby Bridges, for Disney, and Crown Heights, for Showtime Television. Johnson’s essays and short fiction have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Hunger Mountain, Callaloo, and many other publications. She lives in Los Angeles.