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How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  4,375 ratings  ·  533 reviews
'I've had guns pulled on me by four people under Central Mississippi skies - once by a white undercover cop, once by a young brother trying to rob me for the left-overs of a weak work-study check, once by my mother and twice by myself. Not sure how or if I've helped many folks say yes to life, but I've definitely aided in a few folks dying slowly in America, all without th ...more
Paperback, 146 pages
Published August 13th 2013 by Agate Bolden
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Joshunda Sanders
I'm not sure that America has another writer like Kiese, so I hope that folks will pay attention. I will admit to bias since I've been writing about and reading his work closely now for several months.
I love how much hip hop is central to this narrative, not just through a lens of nostalgia, but also through a black male feminist or womanist lens which I feel like I've waited all my life to read from a black man in the 21st Century.
As a student of Kiese's work, I remembered reading the title e
This book took me a long time to finish. This is earnest, vulnerable, honest writing which is truly in a class of its own. These essays accost the reader and challenge us to see life through different eyes, different skin, a different body. It was so foreign to me, and I wanted to be sure I gave each incredible sentence time to sink in. I did not want to just accept this narrative. I wanted to understand and to learn. I was familiar with his raw, honest, hypnotic writing from Laymon's stellar me ...more
Laymon's writing is so potent, so clear - the reader has to simply listen and bear witness. This collection of personal essays range from his childhood in Mississippi to the trials around getting his first novel, Long Division, published.

Laymon effectively uses personal stories to illustrate larger societal realities. In the title essay "How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America", he traces the disciplinary action at his college (for not checking out a library book, yet subsequently ret
Traci Thomas
Jul 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kiese Laymon is such a thoughtful and honest writer. He thinks about ideas and words in ways that complicate and intensify his arguments. That’s certainly true with this book. Some of the essays are about him some are about celebrities but they’re all deeply personal. Parts of this book haven’t aged so well, like the Kanye West essay. But it’s still a good essay it just feels icky now. This book is really good and though it’s clunky in spots, it helped me to understand how we got to HEAVY and al ...more
Cheryl soliloquy may be hard for some to swallow but so is cod liver oil

I bought this collection after being drawn by the essay, "You Are the Second Person," which had been in an online publication (I don't remember which one).

I read "You Are the Second Person" and was appalled (though not surprised) at what this writer had to endure from the publishing world.

I read "Mississippi: An Awakening, In Days" and by Day 2, I was reading aloud; by Day 14, I was standing, applauding and sending pictu
Dec 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
These essays made me laugh, cry, grimace, think, feel, and learn. Our country, communities, families are often dissected through writing, but very rarely do we have young, open-minded Black male voices raised by southern grandmothers, struggling mothers, and hip hop give it to us this real. I picked this one up from the library, but I'll be purchasing it to add it to my own shelves permanently. ...more
Jul 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
In this book of essays, which are a reflection on Laymon’s life, nothing is off limits. There are some essays that a broad audience can relate to but since his writing is so personal, there are many things that are not expressly stated. Several essays require some cultural awareness before you can digest them. Without it statements like,"We felt pride in knowing that the greatest producer alive was an uncle from Compton and the most anticipated emcee in the history of hip-hop was a lanky brother ...more
Very soon in the book I had a very distinct vision that my heart, my brain, and my eyes should be separately on a table, arranged in a triangular pattern facing each other. (I swear I'm not doing drugs or drinking.) I think this is one to feel, to think about, and to really challenge yourself to see.

He plumbs a lot & it's interesting to read it in 2021. (It was published in 2013.)

I know that's a very weird book review but I'll leave it at that.
David Leonard
Sep 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Kiese Laymon is a gem. His prose, his humor, and the brilliance in analysis are all reasons for his place at the top of the writing game. This book is amazing from start to finish. The title, which captures so much about life and death, race and racism, agency and unfreedom, and the perpetuate state of living/dying, is powerful. In just a few words, Kiese defines the importance of race, gender, and class, as it relates to life and death. It also encapsulates the level of vulnerability he shows w ...more
Dec 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I'm a big fan of short stories, poems, and essays. This felt like all three. The words are so powerful and so honest. Deep truth and authenticity in every single word. I am a sensitive human, and this took me on a serious roller coaster of emotions. All the freaking feels. I felt hope amongst the angry and sadness and disappointment. I felt like screaming say it louder! This should be required reading. Kisese should be given all the damn awards. This is way down deep in the soul honest life turn ...more
Jan 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Can I give this book six stars? I would like to give it six stars. Imagine there's a extra star up there, please.

This is not to say Laymon's book is the best written book I've ever read. BUT (and this is coming from someone that reads a lot), I think it is one of the most important and meaningful books I've read in a while. The book is essays on race and racial awareness, privilege and awareness of that privilege. It's a hard read. Hard in that why that the best books are; they step on your toe
Z. F.
Sep 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
"I want to say that remembering starts not with predictable punditry, or bullshit blogs, or slick art that really asks nothing of us; I want to say that it starts with all of us willing ourselves to remember, tell, and accept those complicated, muffled truths of our lives and deaths, and the lives and deaths of folks all around us over and over again."

I picked up this little book of essays because Laymon's recent memoir, Heavy, is being hailed as a masterpiece and I found the title of this o
Liz Matheny
Jan 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, ap-lang
You will be a better person and a better American once you have read this book.

I picked this up a few months ago at Busboys & Poets in DC. I always enjoy their selection because they cater to a racially and culturally diverse group of readers unlike any of the other bigger (albeit independent) bookstores in town.

Laymon's writing is crisp and smart. The only reason why this collection of essays (11 in total) took me so much time was because there was just so much to chew on and think about. From
Sep 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed how raw this book felt. His writing style seemed unconventional in lots of ways, but in a seasoned "I write a lot so I can make my own rules" kind of way, which I
It definitely made me think a lot about the words we could say to those we love that we don't and how we could possibly make a difference with people just by telling them what we want from them, for them, how they could change our lives. It hit home because I know at times I myself have wanted to be better for ot
Oct 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a book of essays and as such, there were some that intrigued me and some that lost me ("Hip Hop Stole My Southern Black Boy"). My favorite was his essay "Kanye West and HaLester Myers Are Better At Their Jobs". Kiese Laymon is a talented writer and essayist who has been discouraged and derided but persevered to get published. Some of his views are familiar as he stays close to the path of other young, Black male writers, and some are deliciously refreshing. ...more
Mar 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
So I just came here to rate this book and saw that I already read it over a year ago and I guess I forgot and I read it again? Ha. It's very good still.

The older review:

A beautiful voice, heartbreaking essays.
Nov 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Extraordinary essays.
Dec 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
In the Author's Note at the beginning of How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, Kiese Laymon writes, "I wanted to shape the book in the form of some of my favorite albums. I thought of the essays as tracks. I thought of some of the pieces in the books as songs with multiple voices and layered musicality." This relatively brief (~150 pages) suite of essays does remind me of a hip-hop album like Jay-Z's Black Album or Kanye West's College Dropout, with an intro and outro, interpolation ...more
Emma Getz
Feb 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Nothing to add here except that it's a great reread, and I was prompted after Kiese reposted his essay from this book, "You are the Second Person," which is relevant to the online conversation happening right now about Black authors in publishing. Highly recommend this collection always

First review:

Beautiful and powerful collection of essays that I loved with all my heart. I was honestly moved to the point of tears with the level of self-reflection and self-actualization in these pieces. I also
Karen Ashmore
Aug 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is the second Kiese Laymon book I have read in as many weeks. This collection of essays ranging from police encounters to his analyses of MJ, Kanye and Tupac show his range of literary style. He reminds me of #RoxaneGay, one of my favorite authors. I usually don’t care much for male authors but I am becoming a fan of Kiese, mainly bc he writes a lot like a Black woman. From the heart.
Nov 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
even better the second time.

let me first start by stating i'll never have the range to reflect on Kiese Laymon's work the way i intend to. but I suppose I'll give it a go.

HOW TO SLOWLY KILL YOURSELF AND OTHERS IN AMERICA is about surviving and living to tell the tale of how this country is so eager and willing to kill black life. these essays speak to the destructive effect of knowing that your life, a black life, is confronted with violence from racism, the police, a global pandemic, an insti
Joe T.
Oct 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
With a good analysis of race in America that produces this "slow death" Laymon is a modern day extension of great essayist James Baldwin but remixed for the hip hop generation. At times you laugh and others you feel heartbreak that America in the 21st century is still teaching It's citizens how to carry out the "slow death".

I read this again because the author bought the rights to his book back and released a revised edition of this book of the same title. Including the original essays, this boo
May 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is rare that I say what I am about to say now:

I wish that my job had not gone away in 2010 - specifically so I could recommend this book to every one of the kids I interacted with when I worked at $HighSchool as an aide.

I don't remember which of my fellow Virtual Silent Book Club members recommended this book to me, but I have found another writer to add to my "read everything he/she writes" list. I literally could not stop listening until the book was finished. And when it was, I wanted more
Betsy Robinson
May 23, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This collection of essays is fiery, energetic, and all over the map. I really enjoyed a few of them, others blew through me like sports- and hip-hop-infused word winds, and a several made me want to give Mr. Kiese Laymon a standing ovation or hug him. All in all, I'm glad I read them. ...more
Halle Kathleen
Jan 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Kiese Laymon's words are just the tips of icebergs. The meaning of each word exists far below what readers see on the surface. He is truly incredible at what he does. ...more
Shirleen R
Dec 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
[Thoughts, a first response]
I've meant to read Kiese Laymon's collection since I saw his title essay on Gawker, then another viral essay on a racial incident at Vassar where he is a professor, and one about his visit home to Mississippi, and how he loved Ole Miss football while so at odds w campus climate and racist incidents. My preamble is to spotlight Kiese Laymon8s versatility. This collection delivers his nimble talent, working in multiple writing forms and voices.

The personal letter forma
Rachel Smalter Hall
I am stunned by this collection of personal essays, and trying to figure out why I haven't been hearing more about it.

Kiese Laymon is a black writer who grew up in Mississippi, and here he excavates much of the pain he's endured throughout his life — an uncle's drug addiction and premature death, a racially charged incident that got him kicked out of college, police encounters with blackness as the only probable cause, working with a black editor who ultimately dropped him for being "too black,
Oct 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kiese Laymon's ministry, in addition to giving Black people the beautiful sentences they deserve, is preaching the gospel of revision. The reissuing of his essay collection "How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America" is a perfect occasion to revisit the original essays and think about he and we (readers, Americans) have changed since 2013 (when I first read the collection.) In reading this reissue, I found myself going back to the initial volume and reflecting on where we were as a socie ...more
Aug 12, 2013 rated it liked it
I definitely think Kiese Laymon is a writer to watch and pay attention to. This book along with his novel, Long Division has ushered him to the literary spotlight. How to Slowly Kill reads like part memoir, part confessional and satirical essay. There are some laugh out loud moments alongside some hard truths.

He writes with passion, and proves that writing is indeed fighting. He is courageous enough to fight for his vision and his words. He wants his voice to echo, to make a difference in the c
Dec 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
A collection of essays on Blackness in 20th/21st Century America. The piece on his grandfather's perceived failings had me laughing on the subway. The reflected letters from gay and trans men made me angry at the world. His reflections on the loss of cultural heroes (Bernie Mac, Tupac, Michael Jackson) made me sad.

It's a perennial form, the blues as book. Black pain, black anger, black grief & joy, served as a cold dish. I'd read the opening essay online and as a result the book sat on my floor
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Kiese Laymon is a black southern writer, born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. Laymon attended Millsaps College and Jackson State University before graduating from Oberlin College. He earned an MFA from Indiana University and is the author of the forthcoming novel, Long Division in June 2013 and a collection of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America in August 2013. Laymon is ...more

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“I lie in a bathtub of cold water, still sweating and singing love songs to myself. I put the gun to my head and cock it.

I think of my Grandma and remember that old feeling of being so in love that nothing matters except seeing and being seen by her. I drop the gun to my chest. I'm so sad and I can't really see a way out of what I'm feeling but I'm leaning on memory for help. Faster. Slower. I think I want to hurt myself more than I'm already hurting. I'm not the smartest boy in the world by a long shot, but even in my funk I know that easy remedies like eating your way out of sad, or fucking your way out of sad, or lying your way out of sad, or slanging your way out of sad, or robbing your way out of sad, or gambling your way out of sad, or shooting your way out of sad, are just slower, more acceptable ways for desperate folks, and especially paroled black boys in our country, to kill ourselves and others close to us in America.”
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