You Should…Read: Heavy: An American Memoir

"You should. . . read Kiese Laymon’s Heavy: An American Memoir (Scribner, 2018)

There are so many reasons you should read Kiese Laymon’s intensely personal story, but let’s start with this: writing so alive it jumps off the page and double-dares you to stay up all night with it.  You should take that dare, but you should also take it seriously.  Addressed to his brilliant, complicated, professor mother, Laymon’s memoir recalls in vivid, often excruciating detail his own experience occupying a large black body in Mississippi—the more to abuse, terrorize, demonize, and shame. The path to adulthood, for Laymon, thus becomes a literal exercise in learning to disappear: as he continues his education in Ohio and Indiana, and goes on to become a professor himself in upstate New York, he starves and runs himself to exhaustion in an effort to become unassailable. We can guess before we know that it’s a futile endeavor because we see the evidence strewn everywhere: the tear gas canisters lobbed over the border at people seeking asylum provide merely the latest proof that ours is a nation still soaking in a hate-fueled white supremacy that just can’t break its habit of inflicting harm upon brown, black, AND LGBTQ bodies.  But Laymon’s book offers far more than further evidence of the racism and violence that makes his story a peculiarly American tale. This courageous book is steeped in a politics of love that will help readers develop just the sort of “radical moral imagination” Laymon’s own mother fostered in him and which we will all need if we are to learn how to “talk, listen, organize, imagine, strategize, and fight fight fight” with and for vulnerable children everywhere."

- Kathy Knapp
Associate Professor
Department of English
University of Connecticut