A Finalist for the NAACP Image Award
A Finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Nonfiction
A Finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor
Longlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay
An NPR Best Book of the Year
A Washington Independent Review of Books Favorite of the Year
From the cofounder of VerySmartBrothas.com, and one of the most read writers on race and culture at work today, a provocative and humorous memoir-in-essays that explores the ever-shifting definitions of what it means to be Black (and male) in America
For Damon Young, existing while Black is an extreme sport. The act of possessing black skin while searching for space to breathe in America is enough to induce a ceaseless state of angst where questions such as “How should I react here, as a professional black person?” and “Will this white person’s potato salad kill me?” are forever relevant.
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker chronicles Young’s efforts to survive while battling and making sense of the various neuroses his country has given him.
It’s a condition that’s sometimes stretched to absurd limits, provoking the angst that made him question if he was any good at the “being straight” thing, as if his sexual orientation was something he could practice and get better at, like a crossover dribble move or knitting; creating the farce where, as a teen, he wished for a white person to call him a racial slur just so he could fight him and have a great story about it; and generating the surreality of watching gentrification transform his Pittsburgh neighborhood from predominantly Black to “Portlandia . . . but with Pierogies.”
And, at its most devastating, it provides him reason to believe that his mother would be alive today if she were white.
From one of our most respected cultural observers, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is a hilarious and honest debut that is both a celebration of the idiosyncrasies and distinctions of Blackness and a critique of white supremacy and how we define masculinity.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Hold on tight. This memoir by Very Smart Brothas co-founder Damon Young might knock you over. His essays bounce between bitingly hilarious observations and sobering truths about what he calls “existing while black” in today’s America. We were impressed by Young’s talent for drawing us into serious conversations by applying pithy labels to harsh realities, like his detailed description of PTBD (post-traumatic brokeness disorder), as well as the darkly comic portrayal of his interactions with his mostly white pickup basketball crew during the 2016 election. Through it all, Young makes discussing major issues of race and identity look deceptively easy. What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is a thought-provoking read that flies by, but the ideas will stick in your head for a long, long time.
These darkly hilarious and forthcoming essays from Young, cofounder of social commentary blog Very Smart Brothas, center around the "perpetual surreality" of the African-American experience. For example, he writes with honesty and humor about his youthful worry that, if no white person called him the N word, his authenticity as a black man was in question. One of the funniest essays contains excerpts of his college-era poetry, often plagiarized from rap lyrics. In another, he recalls sneakily renting pornography as a teenager, feeling he was being watched by "my recently deceased aunt Toni, the first Aunt Viv from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Maya Angelou, and the ghost of that guy Morgan Freeman played in Glory." He critiques toxic masculinity and admits to a major error in judgment: writing a \n"triflin'-ass" piece dismissing a rape victim's critique of rape culture. He wants, he realized, not to be just a "decent" man, but a man "worthy" of friendship with the women in his life. Young uses pop culture references and personal stories to look at a life molded by structural racism, the joy of having a family that holds together in a crisis, and the thrill of succeeding against difficult odds. Young's charm and wit make these essays a pleasure to read; his candid approach makes them memorable. \n
Seriously one of the most enjoyable books that I have ever read. Funny too.
I can relate
Such a great book. I not sure if anyone will read this. I have a friend that is currently incarcerated. The book is circling around the halls on the inside. My friend asked me if we could read it together and do a “book club”over the phone. It was honestly the best decision ever.
I decided to order the book on iBookstore. Everyday I fell in love with this book. I can relate so much to this man it’s crazy from being a former college athlete, to finding black love, and just being honest about the world be live in as a person of color.
I’m typically not a fan of memoir type novels; however, after reading “Educated” by Tara Westover, I decided to give this one a go. While a complete change of pace, this book was incredible. I’m glad the author was able to extend his voice outside of his regular audience (from his blog) and collect his memories in a way such as this. I was able to ask myself some difficult questions regarding what my blackness (and whiteness, as a mixed race individual) meant to me and how I contribute to blackness (and whiteness) in America. A definite recommendation for for individuals of all racial backgrounds!