Thursday, November 8, 2018

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon: Review

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. 

I first heard about this memoir when I listened to his interview on NPR's Weekend Edition and it made me add this one to my TBR. I am thrilled that so many people are feeling brave enough to share their stories. I featured Laymon and his book Long Division here on the blog back in 2017 in a post called Contemporary Black Male Writers. You can read that post here and listen to the NPR interview here.

*Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal and Kirkus Prize Finalist*

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 state of American society and on his experiences with abuse, which conjure conflicted feelings of shame, joy, confusion and humiliation. Laymon invites us to consider the consequences of growing up in a nation wholly obsessed with progress yet wholly disinterested in the messy work of reckoning with where we’ve been.

In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to his trek to New York as a young college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, Laymon asks himself, his mother, his nation, and us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.

A personal narrative that illuminates national failures, Heavy is defiant yet vulnerable, an insightful, often comical exploration of weight, identity, art, friendship, and family that begins with a confusing childhood—and continues through twenty-five years of haunting implosions and long reverberations. 

About the Author

(Photo via Laymon's Website & Bio. via Goodreads)

Kiese Laymon is a black southern writer, born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. Laymon attended Millsaps College and Jackson State University before graduating from Oberlin College. He earned an MFA from Indiana University and is the author of the forthcoming novel, Long Division in June 2013 and a collection of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America in August 2013. Laymon is a contributing editor at He has written essays and stories for numerous publications including Esquire,, NPR, Gawker,, Longman’s Hip Hop Reader, Mythium and Politics and Culture. Laymon is currently an Associate Professor of English, Creative Writing and co-director of Africana Studies at Vassar College.

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