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Atlas of the Body

Publication Date: March 2018


♦Winner of the 2018 CHAUTAUQUA JANUS PRIZE, celebrating an emerging writer’s single work of short fiction or nonfiction for daring formal and aesthetic innovations that upset and reorder literary conventions, historical narratives and readers’ imaginations.

Growing up in poverty in the American south, Maya yearns to escape and find something better than anything she’s known. “She is so hungry. It is not food, but everything else, the world … What she needs is not on her street with the one-eyed houses. It is not in the patch of trees she once thought was a forest. It is beyond, somewhere she can’t quite imagine.” Brought to vivid and visceral life through Nicole Cuffy’s aching, lyrical prose, Maya’s childhood fascination with anatomy and her adult pursuit of a career in medicine leads her to discover what it means to lose-and what it means to break free.

At times raw and at others melodic and tender, Atlas of the Body is a deeply resonant meditation on hunger and the costs of realizing a dream.


Maya examines her hands. They are small, calloused. The backs of her hands are dry and brown, but the insides are pink, lined with brown-tinged creases. If she looks very closely, she can see her fingerprints. If she flexes all her fingers as hard as she can, she can see the green veins under her skin, the knobs of her bones. She likes the little web of skin between her thumb and her pointer finger. She likes that, no matter how hard she pinches there, it doesn’t really hurt.


A poetic narrative of class, time, memory, and love, binding body to body, leaving its mark on the skin, and pulling us ever backward to our very first wounds.

-Sarah Gerard, author of SUNSHINE STATE: ESSAYS and BINARY STAR

Nicole Cuffy’s ATLAS OF THE BODY invents a new form: short fiction with the scope and ambition of a novel comprising vignettes of lyrical prose. Form itself is at question here: the composition of the body, the person it does or does not contain, how much of it is lost in representation. A bildungsroman, the story follows Maya and her beloved Zaire as they roam their impoverished hometown in the American south wild and free, “where everything in the world is their mother and continues through Maya’s adulthood, where she alone must confront the demands of personhood and privilege. All of this unfolds in passages that are alternately compressed and precise, meditative and expansive. Cuffy is an expert conjurer, drawing buried questions from “smudges on a cave wall”: “from the first shadow to stumble out of black muck, what is it we do to each other?” She finds answers, too. Watch her work.

– Justin Sherwood, author of LOW THEORY

Nicole Cuffy’s impressionistic and highly poetic chapbook, ATLAS OF THE BODY, is as lyrical as it is stirring. I’m not sure what delighted me most: the amount of heartbreaking narrative she effectively gets into such a small space, or her rich, evocative prose. A stunning debut.

-Helen Schulman, author of THIS BEAUTIFUL LIFE

About the Author

Nicole Cuffy

Nicole Cuffy is a proud Brooklyn emigrant who enjoys yoga, ballet, and writing literary fiction. Her work can be found in Mason’s Road and The Masters Review Volume VI. Nicole holds a BA in Writing from Columbia University and an MFA in Fiction from the New School. She does her best writing when she’s writing by hand, and she is a high-functioning book addict. When she isn’t reading, writing, or yogaing, she is most likely dancing. She can be found muddling her way through Twitter and life in general @nicolethecuffy.

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