Kiese Laymon grew 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 career as a young college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, abuse, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing and ultimately gambling.
In Heavy, by attempting to name secrets and lies that he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, Laymon asks himself, his mother, his nation and us to confront the terrifying possibility that few know how to love responsibly, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.
A defiant yet vulnerable memoir that Laymon started writing when he was eleven, Heavy is an insightful exploration of weight, identity, art, friendship and family.
In this stylish and complex memoir, Laymon, an English professor at the University of Mississippi and novelist (Long Division), presents bittersweet episodes of being a chubby outsider in 1980s Mississippi. He worships his long-suffering, resourceful grandmother, who loves the land her relatives farmed for generations and has resigned herself to the fact of commonplace bigotry. Laymon laces the memoir with clever, ironic observations about secrets, sexual trauma, self-deception, and pure terror related to his family, race, Mississippi, friends, and a country that refuses to love him and his community. He becomes an educator and acknowledges the inadequacies in his own education, noting that his teachers "weren't being paid right. I knew they were expected to do work they were unprepared to start or finish." He also writes about living among white people, including a family for whom his grandmother did the laundry: "It ain't about making white folk feel what you feel," he quotes his grandmother. "It's about not feeling what they want you to feel." His evolution is remarkable, from a "hard-headed" troubled teen to an intellectually curious youth battling a college suspension for a pilfering a library book to finally journeying to New York to become a much-admired professor and accomplished writer. Laymon convincingly conveys that difficult times can be overcome with humor and self-love, as he makes readers confront their own fears and insecurities.