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Men We Reaped

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  20,863 ratings  ·  2,580 reviews
'...And then we heard the rain falling, and that was the drops of blood falling; and when we came to get the crops, it was dead men that we reaped.' Harriet Tubman

In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five men in her life, to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after anothe
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published September 17th 2013 by Bloomsbury USA
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Average rating 4.29  · 
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 ·  20,863 ratings  ·  2,580 reviews

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Apr 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This started as a 4 star, but the last part of the book really ramped up and moved me to tears. Ward writes beautifully and you can feel her grief pour through the pages. She does a great job at personalizing the statistics of young black men in poverty and honoring their lives.
Aug 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a book about grief, about grief that is unending and wide reaching. It's also a memoir about rural poverty and race, and the all too inevitable conclusions to the lives of five young men in Ward's life. The prose is bursting with pain and beauty and truth. This is a book everyone should read. Where it falls short is that it doesn't do enough to rise above the grief. Ward only briefly addresses the issues of race and poverty and how they indelibly shape too many lives, particularly in the ...more
Sep 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Gorgeous and heartrending. One of the best-written books I've read in a long, long time.

(ETA I just told Kris: "That is one holy shit gorgeous book, and at the same time I don't think I've ever read a book which showed so unrelentingly what it's like to live in the modern apartheid of US racism. It reminded me of James Baldwin and "Araby." Wow. Give her a prize. Give her all the prizes. Shit, give her Jonathan Franzen's house while we're at it.")
Ward’s writing has moments of luminescence — too many to count. But Men We Reaped is breathtakingly full of despair. You can listen to six hours of Lightnin’ Hopkins or read this memoir. Either way, if you’re listening closely, you’ll need a bottle of your favorite beverage and a big box of tissues to see your way to the end.
Elyse Walters
Aug 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book last night - during the dark hours - after watching the Democratic Convention. I absolutely loved the unity, the optimism, and hope.
.....which inspired to read Jesmyn Ward’s memoir.

I’m certain I read “Men We Reaped” differently than I might have even a year ago.

Reap Definition:
....receive a ( reward or benefit) as a consequence of one’s own or other people’s actions.

This year is changing me - hopefully for the better. The time is now - to keep “The Black Lives Matter” movem
Sep 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Meditative and moving, Jesmyn Ward's memoir places personal tragedy against the backdrop of systemic racism and poverty. Ward alternates between recounting her childhood in rural Mississippi and sketching biographies of five young Black men she intimately knew, all who died within the span of four years. Each chapter consists of a series of loosely connected vignettes, written in plain but powerful prose. The book's associative structure and accessible language would make it a swift read, were i ...more
Nov 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I wonder now if I will ever see the title of a new book by Jesmyn Ward that does not thrill me at the same time it fills me with trepidation. Ward’s talent is such that we read what she writes even when we do not want to. Her despair and distress cuts like a blade. She wants it to hurt. So that we know. And we do, now. Has there ever been anyone who could tell this story in this way?
”I never knew Demond when he was younger. I came to know him as an adult, when he was old enough to have sharp sm
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018-favorites
I'm predicting Jesmyn Ward will be the next Black American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her body of work is awesome, and I suspect it will remain that way as she publishes more work.

Fleshed out thoughts to come.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
After discussing Sing Unburied Sing with a group, some seemed to have more insight after reading Jesmyn Ward's memoir and made me want to read it too. It isn't easy going - chapters alternate between her life and the stories of five men in her family/community that died within a period of five years. Highly recommended especially as a companion to her fiction, but really for anyone interested in how a person can share difficult personal stories in an honest way.

This is memoir 9 of my Nonfiction
Nov 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
11/17/13: Another memoir? Too bad, as the Bhutan one is tough to follow. Still, even on its own, MWR is weak and inarticulate. I think Ward's memoir has two major problems. First, she has not fully processed her grief and anger about the deaths, in a relatively short span of time, of five of her relatives and friends--all young black men in the South. And second, she seems to be trying to conflate that very personal, intimate (and difficult) story with a much larger tirade against the tragedy an ...more
Celeste Ng
Sep 18, 2013 added it
Shelves: nonfiction
Searing and heartbreaking. I literally picked this book up off the coffee table to carry it upstairs before bed and ended up reading the entire thing standing up there in the living room.
luce (currently recovering from a hiatus)
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“How could I know then that this would be my life: yearning to leave the South and doing so again and again, but perpetually called back to home by a love so thick it choked me?”

Devastating, heart-wrenching, and full of love and sorrow, Men We Reaped is an unforgettable memoir. Jesmyn Ward recounts her experiences growing up poor, female, and Black in the rural South during the late 80s and 90s. Ward interweaves her personal account with a
Deacon Tom F
Jan 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Masterpiece.

For me, Jesmyn Ward’s, “Men We Reaped” masterfully crafted book is outstanding. It is set against the backdrop of the plight of young black men in her life.

Ward weaves numerous painful situations like drug abuse, homelessness, accidents, suicide, alcoholism and finally sudden deaths into this memoir.

The writing is compelling using very personal situations made up of her life story revealing meanings behind the deaths of five men she was close to in life. The plight of being poor
Nenia ✨ I yeet my books back and forth ✨ Campbell

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This is one of the best memoirs I've read in a while. It's beautifully written and achingly sad. In MEN WE REAPED, Jesmyn Ward writes about some of the Black men in her life who died way too young. But this memoir explores other things, too: class disparity, racism, what it's like to grow up in poverty, the social pressures of growing up Black (for men and for women), the way drugs can tear apart a community, and the callousness of reduc
Mar 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Finished this book a few days ago & honestly can’t stop thinking about it. This memoir is so important, one of the most important pieces of nonfiction I’ve read to date. Ward shun a light on the ills and racists attitudes towards black boys & men in America, using the tragic stories of friends & family who have died b/c of institutional racism. The construction of the memoir is genius, Ward shared the stories of her friends, cousin and brother while intertwining her own story and reflections gro ...more
Diane S ☔
Aug 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Ward and her family lived for generations in De Lisle. Mississippi. When she was growing up, after having assumed responsibility for her younger siblings, she only wanted to escape. She manages this when she attend college, but her brother was not so lucky. Her hometown. with its lack of educational opportunities, subsequent poverty would cost many their lives. From 2000-2004, she would find herself reeling from 5 deaths, the first her brother from a drunk driver, and then friends would follow. ...more
Book Riot Community
This book came out a few years ago but it feels like a perfect commentary on recent events and #BlackLivesMatter. Everyone (including Amanda, who listed this as her April 2016 pick) told me this book was beautiful and gutting but I still wasn’t prepared for Ward’s incredible memoir. I’d planned to read for just a half hour or so and found myself unable to break away from her story of grief and racism, the south and home, growing up and navigating the world as a black, poor or working class, sout ...more
“Hello. We are here. Listen.”

In four years Jesmyn Ward lost five young men close to her to tragic deaths. The oldest was 32, the youngest 19, and they were beautiful, troubled, flawed and gifted. This is not an unusual story in communities experiencing poverty and racism, and when you multiply her experience out to all of these people, the weight of the loss is suffocating. Bravo to Ward for making us feel this. This book is like a Shakespearean tragedy for our times. It must have taken tremendo
Jul 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If there ever was a book that reminded you the preciousness of every individual life this is it.

This beautifully haunting and tender memoir of sorts serves to highlight the devastation of lives lost too soon one of them being the authors younger brother.

The author shares her intimate and personal stories and describes the plight that these young men face the unfairness of a system that doesn’t value their lives, the lives of these young black men. These men for one reason or another dying far
Raw, honest and intensely personal. Very, very good.
Wilhelmina Jenkins
May 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Heart-wrenching, especially since the week that I read it is one in which the perilousness of the lives of young black men is the topic of so much national conversation. Undoubtedly the conversation will die down and some other topic will take its place, but this book stands as testimony to the loss to family and community of these young lives. Ward writes about 5 young black men, family and friends, who died within a few short years in her small, impoverished community for reasons that vary but ...more
Aug 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Jesmyn Ward's memoir, Men We Reaped, is depressing yet well-written. It is a story of loss, mourning, hardship, and numerous calls (or perhaps the perpetual call) Home, again and again.

Ward and her family faced many struggles, most of which were not self-induced, although her father constantly made poor decisions. Her mother was resilient, enduring immense sacrifices to keep the family afloat, and surviving.

Each of the stories about the men Ward shared were depressing. Some were more engaging
Dec 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
I knew after reading the intensely personal, haunting (and a little over-exuberant) National Book Award winner Salvage the Bones about the months leading up to Katrina's landfall in rural Mississippi, Ms. Ward did not exorcise all the demons she needed to. There was a larger story-behind-the-story that was clamoring to be told.

If ever there was a book that could possibly put me in the shoes of someone growing up poor and Black, with no hope to escape the poverty and violence seemingly endemic to
Oct 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I found SALVAGE THE BONES painful to read, and hoped some of the worst parts of those characters' lives were pure fiction. Now, having read Ward's devastating memoir, MEN WE REAPED, I realize how much truth her earlier National Book Award-winning novel told.

Ward's life is laid open like a wound in these pages, honest and unadulterated. She doesn't try to impress us with who she is, what she has done, what happened to the people (especially the men) in her life. Ward writes with deep love and res
Anastacia Reads Stuff
Dec 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I'm not the best at writing reviews but I will try. This book is beautifully written. Though heartbreaking it is incredibly heartfelt. Jesmyn writes the characters of her life so well you almost feel their presence. She helps you paint a picture of them so vividly that your heart hurts for her loss. I also found this book very enlightening, an insight to a world so far from my own. A world where the odds are against you before your life even begins. Overall, this was an amazing read. I thank her ...more
Jul 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Men We Reaped is one of the rare non-fiction books that seems destined to be a literary classic. National Book Award Winner Jesmyn Ward intertwines the story of her life growing up poor and Black in rural coastal Mississippi with the lives of five young men – including her brother – who died within a two year span soon after she finished college. Ward writes with fire and passion as she captures the day-to-day and systemic injustices that she and her family faced and the struggles they went thro ...more
Riva Sciuto
Dec 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Oh my God, I sobbed my way through this from the first page to the last. In this devastating memoir, Jesmyn Ward succeeds in bringing life to the fallen, meaning to the pain, and beauty to the suffering. It is a reflection of the five men she and her small Mississippi community lost — one of whom was her brother — through accidents, suicide, murder, and drug addiction. The book's title comes from the haunting words of Harriet Tubman: "...and then we heard the rain falling and that was the blood ...more
Gayle Pritchard
Mar 14, 2020 rated it liked it
New York Magazine named Men We Reaped one of the Best Books of the Century. Although I look forward to trying another of her best-selling books, I just can't agree with their assessment on this one.
I have been seriously trying to diversify my reading list, adding James Baldwin, more Alice Walker, Laurie Jean Cannady, Ivelesse Rodriguez, Tyrese Coleman, Patrico Gopo and Machael Ondaatje, among others, to my stack of books. I have read Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, still the standards by which
Traci Thomas
Mar 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is so special. The writing is amazing. The form and structure are genius. It is emotional. Ward attempts to find the meaning of being young and black in the American South. It is as important and insightful as any Coates or Baldwin or Wright. This book is power and grace and truly reflective.
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So damn beautiful. All the sadness, all the desolation, all the poverty and all the loss and STILL, Ms.Ward managed to make it so beautiful it hurt.
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Jesmyn Ward is the author of Where the Line Bleeds, Salvage the Bones, and Men We Reaped. She is a former Stegner Fellow (Stanford University) and Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. She is an associate professor of Creative Writing at Tulane University.

Her work has appeared in BOMB, A Public Space and The Oxford American.

Articles featuring this book

February is African American History Month, which is the perfect opportunity to expand your reading horizons. Of course, there are the classic...
124 likes · 46 comments
“I think my love for books sprang from my need to escape the world I was born into, to slide into another where words were straightforward and honest, where there was clearly delineated good and evil, where I found girls who were strong and smart and creative and foolish enough to fight dragons, to run away from home to live in museums, to become child spies, to make new friends and build secret gardens.” 80 likes
“We tried to outpace the thing that chased us, that said: You are nothing. We tried to ignore it, but sometimes we caught ourselves repeating what history said, mumbling along, brainwashed: I am nothing. We drank too much, smoked too much, were abusive to ourselves, to each other. We were bewildered. There is a great darkness bearing down on our lives, and no one acknowledges it.” 47 likes
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