2021 Big Other Book Award Fiction Finalist  

A fiercely ecstatic tale of betrayal and self-sacrifice 

Messiahs centers on two nameless lovers, a woman of east Asian descent and a former state prisoner, a black man who volunteered incarceration on behalf of his falsely convicted nephew, yet was “exonerated” after more than two years on death row. In this dystopian America, one can assume a relative’s capital sentence as an act of holy reform—“the proxy initiative,” patterned after the Passion.  

The lovers begin their affair by exchanging letters, and after his release, they withdraw to a remote cabin during a torrential winter, haunted by their respective past tragedies. Savagely ostracized by her family for years, the woman is asked by her mother to take the proxy initiative for her brother—creating a conflict she cannot bear to share with her lover. Comprised of ten poetic paragraphs, Messiahs’ rigorous style and sustained intensity equals agony and ecstasy.

Marc Anthony Richardson’s novel has a nightmare impact, a gathering heartbreak . . . Messiahs often upsets expectation, using its imaginative premise as more than a platform for critiquing our broken justice system . . . typical of the entire unfolding tapestry, a marvel of close stitching, with glimmers you feel in your spine.

—John Domini, reviewer for The Brooklyn Rail and author of The Archeology of a Good Ragù and The Color Inside a Melon

Messiahs is a fever dream of storytelling. It explores racism and interracial conflict, the deadly prison industrial complex, climate emergency, social death, and more in prose that unfurls like waves of sound. Bleak, though not without hope, challenging, though with numerous rewards along the way, innovative from start to finish, Messiahs is a marvel.”

—John Keene, MacArthur Fellow and author of Annotations and Counternarratives

“In Messiahs, Marc Anthony Richardson gives us an innovative, intelligent, and insightful take on several American obsessions, including punishment, incarceration, and the death penalty. As much as this layered narrative presents a warning about things to come, it also offers a profound examination of rebirth, redemption, second acts. All in all an unnerving, uncanny, and challenging read on many levels, but well worth the effort.”

—Jeffery Renard Allen, Guggenheim Fellow and author of Rails Under My Back and Song of the Shank

"Marc Anthony Richardson's extraordinary novel Messiahs explores the intimate cost of incarceration through a lens you’ve never seen before, and is also about love, race, erotic bonds, and the mysteries of human consciousness in an unjust world. Set in a possible near future in which prisons accept “proxies” for capital punishment, this novel probes the depths, and is written with exquisite lyricism and unrelenting grace."

—Carolina De Robertis, National Endowment for the Arts Fellow and author of Cantoras and The President and the Frog

Messiahs is slim and so rigorously self-contained, and yet it has everything. The whole time I was reading it, I had a mysterious and lovely bell tolling in my head: Clarice Lispector, Clarice Lispector . . . and her questions of how do—can—we unselve? Empathy’s potentialities, and its limits, are constantly engaged in this book, and in this way, it goes beyond the excellent political commentary on the criminal justice system. At one point, Richardson writes that ‘sustained intensity equals ecstasy,’ and that is both the style of the writing and of the reader’s experience of this book: it sends you back to the first chapter as soon as you finish the last page.”

—Darcie Dennigan, author of Slater Orchard and Corinna, A-Maying the Apocalypse
“In prose that’s Old Testament and an America that’s very reminiscent of Delany’s Dhalgren, two lovers are escaping pasts dense with family struggles and imprisonment. Messiahs is shorn to the marrow in language simultaneously ancient and futuristic, and every bit as Joycean as Dhalgren’s, which embodied the strange hell of the postwar 1970s as Messiahs does our present world. It’s a beautiful depiction of the human spirit against the faceless oppressive state, and every bit the heir to Kafka or Tarkovsky.”

—Grant Maierhofer, author of Flamingos and Drain Songs

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Green Apple Books

Reading and Conversation w/ 

Carolina De Robertis

University of Pennsylvania

Reading w/ Vi Khi Nao

FC2 /University of Alabama Press

Reading w/ JoAnna Novak and Yannick Murphy

At the the Inkwell: Bookbar (Denver)

Reading w/ André Hoilette

580 Split


580 Split



2017 American Book Award Winner

2015 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize Winner

A riveting literary debut narrated in an unabashedly exuberant voice.

In Year of the Rat, an artist returns to the dystopian city of his birth to tend to his invalid mother only to find himself torn apart by memories and longings. Narrated by this nameless figure whose rants, reveries, and Rabelaisian escapades take him on a Dantesque descent into himself, the story follows him and his mother as they share a one-bedroom apartment over the course of a year.

Despite his mother’s precarious health, the lingering memories of a lost love, an incarcerated sibling, a repressed sexuality, and an anarchic inability to support himself, he pursues his dream of becoming an avant-garde artist. His prospects grow dim until a devastating death provides a painful and unforeseeable opportunity. With a voice that is poetic and profane, ethereal and irreverent, cyclical and succinct, he roams from vignette to vignette, creating a polyphonic patchwork quilt of a family portrait.

"Even the most challenging of transgressive writers pales in comparison... Technically a novel, it will make all but the most experimental of readers throw it across a room."

Kirkus Reviews

"Richardson has found a way to describe in words the inability to understand other people—he uses dense prose that circles on itself and leaps from present to flashback, depicting a muddled mind at work...once readers enter the story it's easy to be swept into its stormy momentum, and to acknowledge the very promising start of the author's career. "

Publishers Weekly 

"Marc Anthony Richardson is an artist and novelist from Philadelphia, and this compact book, his first, which won the Ronald Sukenick Prize for Innovation Fiction, makes for a fine addition to the recent history of experimental prose by writers with ties to Philadelphia—from the late Fran Ross (whose 1974 novel, Oreo, was recently re-issued) to contemporaries like Samuel R. Delany, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Hilary Plum, Caren Beilin, and the West Philadelphia sci-fi collective Metropolarity. . . . Focused on the body and the anguish of grief, its style has shades of early Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell, Sartre’s Nausea, and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man."

Cleaver Magazine

“Trust me, you've never read anything like Marc Anthony Richardson's Year of the Rat, and you must stop everything you're doing right now and make time for it. Gorgeous, unsparing, heartbreaking, the book is a prose poem of a testament to motherhood, to manhood, to lost generations, to hope itself."

—Cristina García, Guggenheim Fellow and author of King of Cuba and The Lady Matador's Hotel 

"In language that is at times phantasmagoric, at times ribald, and always beautiful, Marc Anthony Richardson's debut novel astounds. Bold, provocative, and ambitious: we have a new, indispensable voice in American letters."

—Micheline Aharonian Marcom, Lannan Fellow and author of Three Apples Fell from Heaven and The Mirror in the Well

“Here is the debut of a breathtaking talent, a writer of relentless intelligence and vision. Marc Anthony Richardson’s writing is at once ecstatic and gritty, fierce and tender, gorgeous and as potent as a bomb.”

—Carolina De Robertis, author of The Invisible Mountain and The Gods of Tango

“As word-drunk as Joyce, as sharp-eyed as Ellison, Richardson has a mesmerizing voice that grabs you by the ears and won’t let go. This poignant tale of a young man’s devotion to his family while he struggles to succeed in a surreal art world introduces Richardson as an important new voice.”

—Cornelia Nixon, author of Jarrettsville and Angels Go Naked

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