*Named a Best Book of the Year by the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, NPR, Broadly, Buzzfeed (Nonfiction), The Undefeated, Library Journal (Biography/Memoirs), The Washington Post (Nonfiction), Southern Living (Southern), Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Times Critics*
In this powerful, provocative, and universally lauded memoir—winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal and finalist for the Kirkus Prize—genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon “provocatively meditates on his trauma growing up as a black man, and in turn crafts an essential polemic against American moral rot” (Entertainment Weekly).
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 time in New York as a college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. Heavy is a “gorgeous, gutting…generous” (The New York Times) memoir that combines personal stories with piercing intellect to reflect both on the strife of American society and on Laymon’s experiences with abuse. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, he asks 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 book for people who appreciated Roxane Gay’s memoir Hunger” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel), Heavy is defiant yet vulnerable, an insightful, often comical exploration of weight, identity, art, friendship, and family through years of haunting implosions and long reverberations. “You won’t be able to put [this memoir] down…It is packed with reminders of how black dreams get skewed and deferred, yet are also pregnant with the possibility that a kind of redemption may lie in intimate grappling with black realities” (The Atlantic).
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Sometimes, telling your own difficult story can be an act of liberation. That’s the feeling that comes through in Kiese Laymon’s stirring memoir about his boyhood and his lifelong struggles with violence, racism, and body image. Laymon grew up in Mississippi with a single mother who was fiercely intelligent and unfailingly attentive, but also physically abusive and viciously overcritical. Addressing the memoir directly to his mother, Laymon keeps returning to the sheer physicality of his body in a way that’s so visceral, you feel every word. His stories about trying to shield himself from his mother’s barbs about his weight, grappling with discrimination at his mostly white college, and finding his voice as a writer will have you in tears one minute and intensely proud of his accomplishments the next. When it comes to Black coming-of-age stories, Laymon’s is, well, Heavy. But it’s one of the most cathartic, intense memoirs we’ve read in years.
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.
Well worth the read, if you’re brave enough to read it.
This is the realest thing I have read in a while, maybe ever. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with all it’s showed me. I want to read everything this guy has written.
This book reminded me,of me & my mother growing up, she is an educator / Principal I didn’t go in her pathway as an educator but I am a fireman for the city of Chicago, so mama did a great job raising me & making sure I didn’t “get shot out the sky”.
It wasn’t for me
The book was sad with no resolution. The generational addiction and sexual trauma was never resolved or healed. It was a continual downward spiral. The author never fully acknowledged his eating disorder and addiction to food for what it was. So much raw emotion without guidance. I wanna hear about where the generational trauma ends not continual blame.