Zinzi Clemmons: What We Lose

About the Author:

Zinzi Clemmons, originally from Philadelphia, PA, now resides with her family in Los Angeles.  She graduated from Brown and Columbia universities.  In 2011, she co-founded the literary journal, Apogee.  She is an associate editor for the Believerand a contributing editor for Literary Hub.  Zinzi also teaches writing at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

What We Loseis her first novel, released in 2017 by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.  The novel was a finalist for the Carnegie Medal, the Aspen Words Literary Prize, and National Book Critics Circle Leonard Prize.  In 2017, she was named an honoree of the National Book Award 5 under 35.

Zinzi relates culturally to the lead character of What We Loseas her parents are also South African and American.

What Critics Are Saying about What We Lose:

  • “. . . written in short, lyrical chapters that initially have the feel of loosely connected vignettes” (independent.co.uk)
  • What We Loseis as much about the desire to be delivered from memory and imagination as it is about love, motherhood, and death. Clemmons crafts a book that feels familiar and wholly innovative.”  (Kiese Laymon, author of Long Division)
  • “I Love how Zinzi Clemmons complicates identity in What We Lose. Her main character is both South African and American, privileged and an outsider, driven by desire and gutted by grief.  This is a piercingly beautiful first novel.” (Danzy Senna, author of New People)

AboutWhat We Lose:

Zinzi Clemmons’ first novel, What We Lose, reads as if one is escaping into a personal journal.  The chapters, as one critic pointed out, are short and can seem like stories within stories; however, they are ultimately woven into an overall story of loss, strength, and moving forward.

The lead character, Thandi, shares the somewhat complicated relationship she has with her parents.  Her love of them is evident; however, she seems to struggle with their cultures – South African and American.  Finding her own place in the world is a quest throughout the novel. Where does she fit?

How she handles her grief during her mother’s illness speaks to her upbringing.  She presents her mom as a strong role model who stands firmly and is somewhat stoic in her approach to life.  Her relationship with her dad seems less defined, especially after the passing of her mom.  Thandi’s loneliness is haunting as she reflects on her thoughts and reaches out to others.  Her romantic relationship is complex, and she ultimately resorts to creating a pro and con checklist, something many of us have done at some point in our lives.  Her move into motherhood is alternatively uncomfortable and heartwarming.  It is in these musings that one may find that they check the cover to confirm this is a novel versus a journal; the feelings are truly raw and relatable.

Where to find What We Lose:

What We Loseis available from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Bookmarks, IndieBound, Books-a-Million, iBooks and wherever books are sold.  It is offered in hard copy, softcover, Kindle, and audio versions. Follow Zinzi on her website (Zinziclemmons.com) and via social media (Twitter and Instagram).


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