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What We Lose – Zinzi Clemmons

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What We Lose – Zinzi Clemmons

Zinzi Clemmons discusses her debut novel 'What We Lose'. (Camera & editing: Nicholas Boyd)

11th May 2018


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A short, intense and profoundly moving debut novel about race, identity, sex and death. Thandi is American, but not as American as some of her friends. She is South African, but South Africa terrifies her. She is a black woman with light skin.

Her mother is dying.


In exquisite vignettes of wry warmth and extraordinary emotional power, What We Lose tells Thandi’s story. Raw and artful, minimal yet rich, it is an intimate portrait of love and loss, and a fierce meditation on race, sex, identity, and staying alive.



I love how Zinzi Clemmons complicates identity in What We Lose. Her main character is both South African and American, privileged and outsider, driven by desire and gutted by grief. This is a piercingly beautiful first novel. – Danzy Senna

An intimate narrative that often makes another life as believable as your own. – John Edgar Wideman

Wise, tender and possessed of a fiercely insightful intimacy, What We Lose is a lyrical ode to the complexities of race, love, illness, parenthood, and the hairline fractures they leave behind. Zinzi Clemmons has gifted the reader a rare and thoughtful emotional topography, a map to the mirror regions of their own heart. – Alexandra Kleeman


Zinzi Clemmons is a writer and editor raised in Philadelphia, with roots in South Africa and Trinidad. She received her BA in Critical Theory and Literary Arts from Brown, and her MFA in Fiction from Columbia. Her writing has appeared in Zoetrope: All-Story, Transition, The Paris Review Daily, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships and support from The MacDowell Colony, Bread Loaf, the Fine Arts Work Centre in Provincetown, and the Kimbilio Centre for African American Fiction.

She is co-founder and former Publisher of Apogee Journal, and she is a Contributing Editor to She teaches literature and creative writing at The Colburn Conservatory and Occidental College. Her debut novel, What We Lose as well as a second title is forthcoming from Viking.

What We Lose is distributed in South Africa by Jonathan Ball Publishers


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