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How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  3,362 ratings  ·  432 reviews
Author and essayist Kiese Laymon is one of the most unique, stirring, and powerful new voices in American writing. How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America is a collection of his essays, touching on subjects ranging from family, race, violence, and celebrity to music, writing, and coming of age in Mississippi. In this collection, Laymon deals in depth with his own ...more
Paperback, 146 pages
Published August 13th 2013 by Agate Bolden (first published July 22nd 2013)
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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
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 at The Stacks
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
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
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
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
Sep 30, 2020 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
His memoir was so powerful. I don’t believe I ever properly reviewed it, though I remember his hauntingly beautiful narration. Quotes from it remain on my phone. Heavy: An American Memoir demands another listen.

Needless to say, I cannot wait for this release!
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
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
Zachary F.
"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
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
Nov 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Extraordinary essays.
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
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.
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,
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
Charles Dee Mitchell
If white American entitlement meant anything, it meant that no matter how patronizing, unashamed, deliberate, unintentional, poor, rich, rural, urban, ignorant, and destructive white Americans were, black Americans were still encouraged to work for them, write to them, listen to them, talk with them, run from them, emulate them, teach them, dodge them, and ultimately thank them for not being as fucked up as they could be.
(From "Our Kind of Ridiculous," page 52.)
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Kiese Laymon is a genius thinker and writer. I remember the first time I taught “The Worst of White Folks” in class—I was student-teaching in a suburb with mostly wealthy white 9th graders—and one of my few conservative girls was so moved by the force of his argument and quality of his prose that she just had to thank him for helping her better understand white supremacy in America. He does the same for me.
Dec 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Kiese Laymon's voice is so, for lack of a better word, real. I hate to use such a trite word to describe him, but his writing, his vulnerability, his sight just rings true. He puts himself and his experiences out there on the table and doesn't try to sugarcoat or gloss over the things that truly matter. This collection was insightful, in-your-face, and full of heart. ...more
Jun 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'm trying to drink less coffee because my blood pressure is elevated. Uh, what does that have to do with anything, right? I'm kind of tired, "a bit bleary, worse for wear and tear" (name the song that line came from, Rolling Stone song, and win a prize). Shaking the cobwebs out of my head. I just went back to read my review of "Heavy" and I got teary. I got teary remembering reading the book and that yes, I felt I captured in that review just what the book meant to me.

There are a few things we
Jordan Barclay
Jul 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
You ever want to reach through the pages and give the author a hug for being such a fucking lovely human being?

I'll always have a special place in my heart for this collection of essays. Kiese gets painfully personal, even more so than Heavy.

The title essay moved me to tears, but other stories gave me a light-hearted chuckle. The topics in here range from Kanye West to Anti-Suicide, so these shifts in quality and tone can be a bit abrupt.

Also, there can be some inconsistencies through the lens o
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
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
Amanda Bernal
What a writer. Wow.
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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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