Heavy: An American Memoir

Heavy: An American Memoir

In this powerful and provocative memoir, genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon explores what the weight of a lifetime of secrets, lies, and deception does to a black body, a black family, and a nation teetering on the brink of moral collapse.Kiese Laymon is a fearless writer. In his essays, personal stories combine with piercing intellect to reflect both on the...

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Title:Heavy: An American Memoir
Author:Kiese Laymon
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Heavy: An American Memoir Reviews

  • Aleatha

    I've been waiting on this book all year and it didn't disappoint.

  • Andre

    Such an aptly titled memoir because it is indeed heavy, not only speaking about his struggles with weight, but also heavy in the literary and impact sense. It is both heady and the words land with real impact on the reader. Kiese Laymon has given us a brutally honest look into his life and asks us, the readers to bear the weight of his experiences, and that is a challenging request but one well worth the payoff. And that recompense comes in the form of a piercingly written memoir that soars to h

    Such an aptly titled memoir because it is indeed heavy, not only speaking about his struggles with weight, but also heavy in the literary and impact sense. It is both heady and the words land with real impact on the reader. Kiese Laymon has given us a brutally honest look into his life and asks us, the readers to bear the weight of his experiences, and that is a challenging request but one well worth the payoff. And that recompense comes in the form of a piercingly written memoir that soars to heights not generally seen in memoir writing.

    Laymon seems to have fastidiously labored over every sentence and that meticulousness makes for an absolutely wonderful read. Right from the start Laymon states, speaking to his mother “I did not want to write to you. I wanted to write a lie. I did not want to write honestly about black lies, black thighs, black loves, black laughs, black foods, black addictions, black stretch marks, black dollars, black words, black abuses, black blues, black belly buttons, black wins, black beens, black bends, black consent, or black children. I did not want to write about us. I wanted to write a lie.” But, he did not write the lie. He bravely wrote the truth in all its ugliness. That opening was bracing, preparing, indeed apologizing to his mother for what would eventually appear on these pages.

    The prose is exquisite and although the subject matter is mostly heavy, at times the handling is light but the constant is the honesty. A virtuous baring of the soul, he frequently takes the reader right to the edge but doesn't shove us into the abyss, always leaving room for the necessary deep breaths to take in all that we are digesting from the page. And Laymon delivers, sentence after sentence. You clearly know you are in the hands of a writer that has spent serious time perfecting the mechanics of writing. It is easy to marvel at the construction of paragraphs and it all adds up to what is an extraordinary work.

    I have intentionally avoided writing about the content of the book, it's his life in book form, just know that you are in for a fascinating ride with highs, lows, laughs, sighs and maybe tears. “We will not ever have to be this way. I wanted to write a lie. You wanted to read a lie. I wrote this to you instead because I am your child, and you are mine. You are also my mother and I am your son. Please do not be mad at me, Mama. I was just trying to put you where I’ve been. I am just trying to put you where I bend.” Thank you Kiese Laymon for sharing, there is no doubt that your act of fearlessness will help countless others as they grapple with their own struggles. A big thank you to Scribner Books and Edelweiss for an advanced DRC. Book drops October 16, 2018.

  • Roxane

    How do you carry the weight of being a black man in America? In electrifying, deliberate prose, Kiese Laymon tries to answer that question from the first page of Heavy: An American Memoir to the last. He writes about what it means to live in a heavy body, in all senses of that word. He writes of family, love, place, trauma, race, desire, grief, rage, addiction, and human weakness, and he does so relentlessly, without apology. To call the way Laymon lays himself bare an act of courageous grace is

    How do you carry the weight of being a black man in America? In electrifying, deliberate prose, Kiese Laymon tries to answer that question from the first page of Heavy: An American Memoir to the last. He writes about what it means to live in a heavy body, in all senses of that word. He writes of family, love, place, trauma, race, desire, grief, rage, addiction, and human weakness, and he does so relentlessly, without apology. To call the way Laymon lays himself bare an act of courageous grace is beside the point but what and how he writes in this exceptional book are, indeed, acts of courageous grace.

  • Jessica Woodbury

    At the very beginning of HEAVY, Laymon writes, "I did not want to write to you. I wanted to write a lie." The "you" is Laymon's mother, and the book is, above all else, about the two of them, written with such openly bared love and fear that it feels like intruding on them to read it. Even the people you know best don't reveal themselves to you this way, and that is, perhaps, some of what Laymon is trying to correct for at least one reader.

    The heaviness of the title is made manifest throughout

    At the very beginning of HEAVY, Laymon writes, "I did not want to write to you. I wanted to write a lie." The "you" is Laymon's mother, and the book is, above all else, about the two of them, written with such openly bared love and fear that it feels like intruding on them to read it. Even the people you know best don't reveal themselves to you this way, and that is, perhaps, some of what Laymon is trying to correct for at least one reader.

    The heaviness of the title is made manifest throughout the book. It is the weight of trauma kept secret, the weight of generations of black oppression, the weight of truths unspoken, the weight of shame, the weight of expectations, and the actual weight of an actual body. I could feel as I read it, the memory of the original lie Laymon wrote which he could not let stand, and then started over to write this book. The contrast of the truth, the way he forces himself to lay out the facts, but also shows the power of the lie and the lies he tells himself in the choices he makes. All of this makes it one of those memoirs that feels singular, that carves out a new way to show yourself to the world. (For me, it is up there with recent works like HUNGER, NEGROLAND, and THE FACT OF A BODY in that respect.)

    Structurally, it is a traditional memoir. It moves forward in linear time, it focuses on certain formative periods, it charts the development of the person the author is now. It is also, it seems, his own attempt to call himself to action while acknowledging all along the way that one thing he has learned so far is that these calls rarely go the way you want them to. Life does not usually give us these simple structures of obstacle followed by growth, so often it is obstacle followed by failure which leads to more failure and an ever-growing spiral of shame. Laymon has the gift of knowledge, of insight, of words, of education, but sometimes all that gives him is the ability to know just how far he has gone wrong.

    Laymon grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, raised by a single mother who is also a professor. She surrounds him with books, she assigns him essays, she is in many ways that stereotypical black parent who demands their black child work twice as hard. She also hits him, lies to him, steals from him, and falls into patterns of abuse and addiction that have been passed down to her and that she will in turn pass down to Laymon. As the book tells their story, it also reckons with the heritage of being black in the deep South, what it means to be there, and what it means to leave. It is not that the way Laymon writes about her is unflinching, it is that he lets you see him flinch, see how much he loves her and how much it hurts him to be hurt by her and now to hurt her in return by laying it all bare.

    I have been a fan of Laymon's for years, his novel LONG DIVISION is one of my favorites, and I have never read one of his essays that wasn't sublime. HEAVY is an even bigger achievement: masterfully written, moving effortlessly from personal confession to societal critique, seeing the intricacies of the author as well as his place in a bigger world. I was tempted to underline something on almost every page. The only reason I wasn't constantly sharing pictures of it on Instagram Stories was because I never wanted to share just one sentence, I wanted to share whole paragraphs and pages. I actually feel a little bit of guilt writing a good review because Laymon is so unabashedly honest about himself, about addictions and abuse and eating disorders, about his family and his relationships, that it feels like a betrayal to share it publicly. It is truly a gift to write this way and I hope we do not squander it.

  • Jade

    As he states right at the beginning of his memoir, Kiese Laymon could have written a lie. He could have sugarcoated and hidden, forgotten, and omitted. But he didn’t, and I’m so glad he told the real raw truth in Heavy. A word of warning: Heavy is going to rip your heart out more than once, and cause you to start looking at your own life in a different way. We could all tell lies, we all do tell lies… What will happen if we take a page out of Kiese Laymon’s stunning book and start telling our ow

    As he states right at the beginning of his memoir, Kiese Laymon could have written a lie. He could have sugarcoated and hidden, forgotten, and omitted. But he didn’t, and I’m so glad he told the real raw truth in Heavy. A word of warning: Heavy is going to rip your heart out more than once, and cause you to start looking at your own life in a different way. We could all tell lies, we all do tell lies… What will happen if we take a page out of Kiese Laymon’s stunning book and start telling our own truths? I hope people realize how much courage and heart it took to write this memoir, and that people take their time to unpeel the layers that are present within the words. I’m still reeling and probably will be for a while.

    Heavy reads like a novel in letter form, a letter to “you”, Kiese Laymon’s mother. It follows Laymon’s life growing up poor and black to a single mother in Jackson, Mississippi, through college and right through his years teaching at Vassar. Heavy is Laymon’s life, but it is also the story of his brilliant and conflicted mother, his amazing grandmother whose drops of wisdom are always perfectly timed, of physical and sexual abuse, and of being determined despite all of the obstacles that were put in his path way before he was even conceived. Heavy is struggle: struggle with weight, struggle with control, with gambling, with finding oneself, the struggles of living in a world created only to benefit white people. I will never understand what it is to grow up as a black man in the US, but Laymon’s memoir provides excellent insight into the unique struggles faced by black men in this country. As I said earlier, Heavy is layers, and you need to appreciate them all to understand the piece of literary excellence that it is. A memoir but also a profound insight into this country and the lies this country tells itself to keep on keeping on. We are all pretty much complicit in these lies, our legacy will rest on what we actually did to make a difference. Laymon has been making his differences for years, are we making ours?

    On a personal level, I have always hesitated to write full truths in case I upset people. I know exactly how much courage it took to write Heavy, and how it also must have hurt Laymon’s mother the first time she read it. You can find an absolutely beautiful letter from her on his blog which in my opinion sets the importance of writing the truth no matter what in stone. We all make mistakes, it’s up to us to use them as growth rather than hide behind them. Kiese Laymon has become a huge inspiration to me, and I’m pretty sure Heavy is going to continue to inspire and impact me for years to come.

    This review doesn’t do Heavy enough justice. All I can say is that you need to read it. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy. Thanks to Kiese Laymon for putting so much of yourself into your beautiful writing.

  • Monica **can't read fast enough**

    Heavy is overwhelmingly honest, heart wrenching and written in a stunningly beautiful way. Kiese Laymon not only looks into the mirror and sees himself wholly, he reflects all of the ugly injustice and brutality of our culture. Both as American and as African Americans. The long held and brutal belief that as parents of black children you must beat your children and treat them almost cruelly just to keep them safe and enable them to make it to adulthood is devastating. The cruelty that we impose

    Heavy is overwhelmingly honest, heart wrenching and written in a stunningly beautiful way. Kiese Laymon not only looks into the mirror and sees himself wholly, he reflects all of the ugly injustice and brutality of our culture. Both as American and as African Americans. The long held and brutal belief that as parents of black children you must beat your children and treat them almost cruelly just to keep them safe and enable them to make it to adulthood is devastating. The cruelty that we impose upon each other in the name of love, self defense, and even self love is mind boggling. The amount of abuse that people are willing to dish out and accept in order to feel the slightest hint of love and acceptance is mortifying.

    Heavy will gut you in the most necessary way. While reading Heavy you won't be able to hide from the ugly truths. Seeing the devastation that is heaped upon the hearts and minds of our community through the experiences of Laymon cannot be denied once you experience this memoir. Since you can't heal what you won't acknowledge Heavy is a must read.

  • Thomas

    A brilliant and harrowing memoir about growing up black in America. In a roughly chronological fashion, Kiese Laymon details his coming of age in Mississippi, his college years, and his job as a professor at Vassar College. As a child, he dealt with physical/sexual abuse, and throughout his life he dealt with persistent racism that damaged his body and his relationships. With a consistent overarching focus on structural racism, Laymon hones in on two salient aspects of his life in

    : his com

    A brilliant and harrowing memoir about growing up black in America. In a roughly chronological fashion, Kiese Laymon details his coming of age in Mississippi, his college years, and his job as a professor at Vassar College. As a child, he dealt with physical/sexual abuse, and throughout his life he dealt with persistent racism that damaged his body and his relationships. With a consistent overarching focus on structural racism, Laymon hones in on two salient aspects of his life in

    : his complicated, fraught, and deep relationship with his mother, and the disordered eating and body image issues he faced for years and years. Laymon's writing about these two areas invites us to think and to feel about several pressing, heartrending topics, such as the ways that we replicate the abusive relationship styles modeled to us by our country and our elders, as well as how marginalized people use our bodies to cope with or block out discrimination. Laymon is intelligent, eloquent, and raw. The comparisons to Roxane Gay are most definitely warranted.

    I most loved

    for how Laymon speaks truth to power. He writes about how the system (e.g., the United States, higher education within the United States) is rigged against people of color - especially black and brown people - with passion and poignancy. As someone in academia, I felt both inspired and saddened reading Laymon's revelations about his time in the academy, inspired by his courage and saddened that he and so many others suffer. I also appreciated Laymon's willingness to admit to his own shortcomings, such as how he has failed some students and committed errors in his relationships.

    Overall, a moving memoir I would recommend to fans of the genre and those interested in race, body image/disordered eating, and parent/child dynamics. There were a few places where I felt like certain things could have been more explicitly addressed (e.g., so how did the recovery or lack thereof from disordered eating and gambling happen? how did he feel about his mother when certain things happened?) but that's just my personal preference. Looking forward to reading more of Laymon's work.

  • Michael

    My review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, also can be found on my

    .

    Following the author's life from his childhood in Jackson, Mississippi, to his teaching position at Vassar College, Kiese Laymon's memoir considers what it means to grow up Black, male, and heavy in America. Laymon centers

    on his close bond with his single mother, and from that viewpoint he writes succinctly about body image, Blackness, masculinity, trauma, language, education, addiction, and so much more.

    My review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, also can be found on my

    .

    Following the author's life from his childhood in Jackson, Mississippi, to his teaching position at Vassar College, Kiese Laymon's memoir considers what it means to grow up Black, male, and heavy in America. Laymon centers

    on his close bond with his single mother, and from that viewpoint he writes succinctly about body image, Blackness, masculinity, trauma, language, education, addiction, and so much more. The memoir is divided into four parts, each with four sections, all addressed to Laymon's mother, a college professor who struggled to care for herself as she pushed her son to be his best. Laymon is talented at capturing a person's strengths as well as their flaws, including his own, and his prose is rhythmic and full of memorable lines.

  • Tucker

    The last time I read a memoir as powerful and unforgettable as “Heavy” by Kiese Laymon was Roxane Gay’s “Hunger.” So it seems especially appropriate that she would be the one to write the cover blurb for Laymon’s book.

    “Heavy is astonishing. Difficult. Intense. Layered. Wow. Just wow.”

    Laymon’s sentences are each finely crafted gems. The deep dive he makes into his history, examining his relationships with his Mother and Grandmother, issues of obesity, anorexia, abuse, trauma, secrets, lies, and

    The last time I read a memoir as powerful and unforgettable as “Heavy” by Kiese Laymon was Roxane Gay’s “Hunger.” So it seems especially appropriate that she would be the one to write the cover blurb for Laymon’s book.

    “Heavy is astonishing. Difficult. Intense. Layered. Wow. Just wow.”

    Laymon’s sentences are each finely crafted gems. The deep dive he makes into his history, examining his relationships with his Mother and Grandmother, issues of obesity, anorexia, abuse, trauma, secrets, lies, and truth was intense, brave, and emotionally raw and wrenching. A huge thank you to Laymon for his willingness to so honestly bare his pain and his heart, and for doing so with such exquisite and eloquent writing. This is a book I won’t soon forget and I highly recommend it.

    Thank you to Scribner and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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