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Men We Reaped

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  11,821 ratings  ·  1,488 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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4.18  · 
Rating details
 ·  11,821 ratings  ·  1,488 reviews

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Moira Russell
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.
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 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
My review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog.

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 asso
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.
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
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 ref ...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
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
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
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.
Alice Lippart
Raw, honest and intensely personal. Very, very good.
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
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
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
Aug 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Beautiful writing but I often felt that she skipped some practical parts. It's a memoir that works in reverse order. The chapter alternate between her childhood and the reverse chronological order of deaths of young black men she knew, culminating with the death of her only brother. This builds the dawning horror of the deaths.

She details the difficulty of growing up poor and black in rural Mississippi. I was a bit disappointed that she didn't bring in in facts about poverty and racism and death
Liz Janet
“Because we trusted nothing, we endeavored to protect ourselves, boys becoming misogynistic and violent, girls turning duplicitous, all of us hopeless.”
This is literally a regular memoir with a chronologically backwards biography of five men.

This memoir tries to link the death of men in Jesmyn Ward's life to the injustices done to those that are underprivileged. And even though I do not feel that it achieved it, it is still an incredible read that introduces us to identity and home, and how tha
"When I was born, I weighed two pounds and four ounces, and the doctors told my parents I would die."

Jesmyn Ward did not die that day in DeLisle, Mississippi. She went on to become a two-time National Book Award-winning author and associate professor at Tulane University. But over the course of five short years, when Ward was in her 20's, five men close to her did die. One of those men was her brother. This is her homage to those five men, her extensive family, and her community: “To say this is
Sarah Weathersby
The title comes from a quote by Harriet Tubman, "We heard the rain falling and that was the blood falling; and when we came to get in the crops, it was dead men that we reaped."

Jesmyn Ward is becoming one of my favorite authors. This memoir was painful to read, but held together by her beautiful prose.

She tells the story of lost young men, her cousins and brother, growing up poor, black and male in Mississippi. Mississippi of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," Mississippi of Nina Simone's "Missi
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.
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
This is the memoir to read if you want to read about essentially American problems and struggle; if you want to read about one woman coping with cavernous grief, rendered in unsentimental prose (one of the hardest subjects to write with restraint); if you want to understand the detrimental effects of racism on both a systemic and an individual level, as well as the interweavings of racial and class inequality. I have no doubt that it's the most important memoir we'll be seeing for a long time. T ...more
David Schaafsma
Sep 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: auto-bio-memoir
I received an advance copy from the publisher, Bloomsbury, to read and review. I sought it out because I had read her 2011 National Book Award winning Salvage the Bones, her second novel, and this is non fiction (though she writes in her acknowledgement that she needed validation that she had indeed written a memoir…). Creative writing programs such the University of Michigan program Ward graduated from tell you to write what you know, and she is doing this, clearly. Ward is Bones and here in Re ...more
Jessie Kennedy
Sep 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
We live in a fucked up world and this book fucked me up, required reading.
Jan 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I can't do this justice, but I will try...

Jesmyn Ward vacillates between a chronologically rendered memoir and chronologically backwards biographies of five Black male friends and relatives she lost much too early.

This is a South I did and did not live in. Ward's sensual, agonizing story unfolds in my native Mississippi, recounted in such richly textural terms you can feel the gravel hot under your feet and breathe in the mingling scents of red clay and pine needles. I know this place and, like
Jul 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
In this book the author tells about five young men - her brother and four of her friends - who died within five years of each other. It is a heart-breaking look at the ways poverty, racism, and politics have destroyed opportunity and hope among generations of black people in the Deep South. While each of the young men died due to different circumstances, there is a prevailing sense of hopelessness that seems to color all of their lives. As I read this book, I just kept wondering what might have ...more
Aug 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Deeply sad and personal, very well written, and builds to a powerful climax. This ethnography/partial autobiography achieves a lot in 250 pages.
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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.
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“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.” 67 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.” 27 likes
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