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Heavy: An American Memoir
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Heavy: An American Memoir

4.43  ·  Rating details ·  3,078 ratings  ·  556 reviews
In this powerful and provocative memoir, genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon explores what the weight of a lifetime of secrets, lies, and deception does to a black body, a black family, and a nation teetering on the brink of moral collapse.

Kiese Laymon is a fearless writer. In his essays, personal stories combine with piercing intellect to reflect both on the
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 16th 2018 by Scribner
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Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
How do you carry the weight of being a black man in America? In electrifying, deliberate prose, Kiese Laymon tries to answer that question from the first page of Heavy: An American Memoir to the last. He writes about what it means to live in a heavy body, in all senses of that word. He writes of family, love, place, trauma, race, desire, grief, rage, addiction, and human weakness, and he does so relentlessly, without apology. To call the way Laymon lays himself bare an act of courageous grace is ...more
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, favorites
My review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, also can be found on my my blog.

Following the author's life from his childhood in Jackson, Mississippi, to his teaching position at Vassar College, Kiese Laymon's memoir considers what it means to grow up Black, male, and heavy in America. Laymon centers Heavy on his close bond with his single mother, and from that viewpoint he writes succinctly about body image, Blackness, masculinity, trauma, language, education, addiction, and so much more.
Nov 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
The last time I read a memoir as powerful and unforgettable as “Heavy” by Kiese Laymon was Roxane Gay’s “Hunger.” So it seems especially appropriate that she would be the one to write the cover blurb for Laymon’s book.
“Heavy is astonishing. Difficult. Intense. Layered. Wow. Just wow.”
Laymon’s sentences are each finely crafted gems. The deep dive he makes into his history, examining his relationships with his Mother and Grandmother, issues of obesity, anorexia, abuse, trauma, secrets, lies, and
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I find this memoir near impossible to review for a number of reasons:

the book was near impossible to read for me;
the book is brilliant;
the book is not written for me.

If you only take one thing from my review, let it be this: Kiese Laymon is utterly, utterly brilliant. On a simple sentence by sentence level his writing is absolutely stunning, it wrecked me in the perfection of his prose. But even more so, the structure of this memoir is impeccable and the way he tells his story and makes is po
Oct 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
A brilliant and harrowing memoir about growing up black in America. In a roughly chronological fashion, Kiese Laymon details his coming of age in Mississippi, his college years, and his job as a professor at Vassar College. As a child, he dealt with physical/sexual abuse, and throughout his life he dealt with persistent racism that damaged his body and his relationships. With a consistent overarching focus on structural racism, Laymon hones in on two salient aspects of his life in Heavy: his com ...more
Jessica Woodbury
At the very beginning of HEAVY, Laymon writes, "I did not want to write to you. I wanted to write a lie." The "you" is Laymon's mother, and the book is, above all else, about the two of them, written with such openly bared love and fear that it feels like intruding on them to read it. Even the people you know best don't reveal themselves to you this way, and that is, perhaps, some of what Laymon is trying to correct for at least one reader.

The heaviness of the title is made manifest throughout
Oct 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is one of the hardest reviews I've ever attempted to write. Probably because, as my friend Hannah so aptly put it in her own review, this book was not written for me. But that's what was so admirable about it. Kiese Laymon states clearly in the prologue to his memoir that he has no intention of writing a sanitized, palatable version of events; it's almost painful in its honesty but it's for this reason that I think this book is so crucial and necessary (especially for non-black readers).

Dec 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Heavy is a memoir that reads like the best novels. A work of art that warrants plenty discussion and begs for dissection. A book that is a force for radical honesty, sincerity and reckoning in society. Laymon knows that if society as a whole cannot deal with our personal histories with radical honesty & sincerity then the United States will continue to be the revolving door of denial that it's always been.

His freedom dream is imaginative, utopian, and so difficult to obtain that it might be
Dec 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: usa, 2018-read
Shortlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal and Kirkus Prize Finalist
Kiese Laymon writes about his life growing up as a black man in Mississippi and how racism and violence result in lies and addiction - lies to oneself and all loved ones because the truth is too painfully overwhelming and the perceived feeling of defeat too shameful, addiction because it promises some degree of comfort (over-eating and drugs), control (starving), or freedom by surrender (gambling). Laymon's writing is dark, inte
Monica **can't read fast enough**
Heavy is overwhelmingly honest, heart wrenching and written in a stunningly beautiful way. Kiese Laymon not only looks into the mirror and sees himself wholly, he reflects all of the ugly injustice and brutality of our culture. Both as American and as African Americans. The long held and brutal belief that as parents of black children you must beat your children and treat them almost cruelly just to keep them safe and enable them to make it to adulthood is devastating. The cruelty that we impose ...more
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Such an aptly titled memoir because it is indeed heavy, not only speaking about his struggles with weight, but also heavy in the literary and impact sense. It is both heady and the words land with real impact on the reader. Kiese Laymon has given us a brutally honest look into his life and asks us, the readers to bear the weight of his experiences, and that is a challenging request but one well worth the payoff. And that recompense comes in the form of a piercingly written memoir that soars to h ...more
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've been waiting on this book all year and it didn't disappoint.
"I wanted to write a lie. You wanted to read a lie. I wrote this to you instead because I am your child, and you are mine. You are also my mother and I am your son. Please do not be mad at me, Mamma. I am just trying to put you where I bend. I am just trying to put us where we bend."

Mother's Response:These Are Your Memories

Typically when I read a memoir I am trying to see through the other person's eyes, attempting to understand how their past bought them to where they are now. At times I strug
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Just brilliant. If I was to write a full review of this it'd be jam-packed with all the superlatives. Just go and read it!
Oct 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
I inhaled this book! I might change the rating to five stars, but I need to read it two more times to be sure.
Ava Butzu
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I don't think I have ever wanted so desperately to re-read a book as much as I want to re-read "Heavy." The author, Kiese Laymon, subtitled his book "An American Memoir," but it could just as easily have been sub-subtitled "A Writer's Memoir." But Laymon is not just any writer. He is a heroic wordsmith, an acrobatic stunter of syntax, a tenacious deep sea diver of emotion, a noble explorer of the dusty and horrifying paragraphs of his life.

I haven't re-read anything in over 25 years. I knew half
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 rounded up
Dec 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Kiese Laymon is unsparing in his reveal of himself, his struggles and those of America, the damage white America does and continues to do to black people.

Heavy refers to many burdens: the burden of Laymon's body which he tries to starve away, the heaviness of the lies we tell ourselves and our children, but more specifically the burden that her been placed on black people just to stay alive, physically, in this society, let alone professionally and emotionally where as Laymon's mother says exce
Wendy Ortiz
Nov 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite books read this year.
Jamise // Spines & Vines
WOW, what a book! How do you call something so heartbreaking BRILLIANT? The writing is stunning, the vulernability on display is breathtaking and the delivery is masterful. There were times that I forgot I was reading a memoir because it reads like the perfect novel.

Kiese Laymon delves into many “heavy” topics -- the struggle of living life as a man in a black body, his weight, abuse, sex, racism, gambling, education, friendships & family dynamics. I don't think there was a topic that was n
C.M. Arnold
Dec 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read this book in a day and a half. I became absorbed in it almost instantly. I don't usually read prologues/prefaces/whatever you want to call them, but something told me to read this one. From him telling the reader what he wanted to write--what he did write and scrapped to write this, the truth he didn't want to remember--I knew this was going to be a special book from a special author. It is, as the title suggests, heavy. It is also raw, brave, vulnerable, extremely intimate, painfully hon ...more
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Finishing this book felt like finally releasing a breath I had been holding in for a very long time.

When a Goodreads friend told me that the book felt like a roller-coaster ride, after I finished it, I completely agreed. From the first page, I was enticed by Kiese's beautiful way with words to describe such tragic events in his upbringing. By the last page, my brain was so full of new ideas and questions that I kept thinking to myself: wow.

As a Black woman, I asked myself how much I could reso
As he states right at the beginning of his memoir, Kiese Laymon could have written a lie. He could have sugarcoated and hidden, forgotten, and omitted. But he didn’t, and I’m so glad he told the real raw truth in Heavy. A word of warning: Heavy is going to rip your heart out more than once, and cause you to start looking at your own life in a different way. We could all tell lies, we all do tell lies… What will happen if we take a page out of Kiese Laymon’s stunning book and start telling our ow ...more
Rachel Smalter Hall
If you like memoirs where the author rips their heart out of their chest and leaves it beating on the floor, great, because we have so much to talk about. Kiese Laymon's new memoir has left me totally speechless, but I'm going to try really hard to make words now so I can tell you how deeply I loved it.

Heavy is about a lot of things, including what happens to the body after trauma. From the time he was just a kid in Mississippi, Kiese Laymon has known exactly how much he weighs at any given mome
Kasa Cotugno
What ever choices or challenges you may be forced to make in life, they are NOTHING compared to what it means to exist as a black man in today's America. The implementation of bodycams spawning outrage while watching the evening news, the helplessness at the tragedy felt at a watching, nightly, as lives are changed forever by impetuousness and unwarranted fear. This is Kiese's own story as he narrates to his mother. His writing is raw, but his accomplishments many, and he along with Roxanne Gay ...more
Robert Blumenthal
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a searing memoir that I could not help comparing to Between the World and Me by Ta Nehisi Coates. Where that memoir was a letter from the author to his teenage son, this one is a letter to his mother. And where the Coates was more intellectual and very well conceived, this one I felt was more from the gut. Dealing with similar issues about how the Black man and woman have to navigate the world of White America, Heavy was much more personal and reflective.

More of a love/hate rather than j
Oct 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Oct 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Like Sherman Alexie’s You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, this memoir uses radical honesty and great skill to transform a complex life with a difficult mother into a heart-wrenching personal story that also illustrates the effects of institutional racism. A challenging and important work.
Whew, ya'll...there's something in my eyes...

This is a beautiful book. In it, writer Kiese Laymon describes growing up as a Black man in America, in the deep South of Mississippi. He discusses physical and sexual abuse as a child, the racism of his school and college years, his time as a professor at Vassar College. Within this book are two main subplots: his very complicated relationship with his mother, issues with body image and weight that he has faced for years.

This book is smart, eloquent
Nov 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is lightning and moonglow, but it is also gravity. The title is not a metaphor. While reading it, I felt like I was carrying the weight of centuries of trauma in my bones. I don’t think I’ve ever read a more honest and brutal assessment of a life lived.

And yet, Kiese manages to also keep love as a defining feature of the book. And not the kind of romantic notions of love that Hollywood uses as propaganda and corporations use to get us to buy more things. It’s more like the love that Ja
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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
“For the first time in my life, I realized telling the truth was way different from finding the truth, and finding the truth had everything to do with revisiting and rearranging words. Revisiting and rearranging words didn't only require vocabulary; it required will, and maybe courage. Revised word patterns were revised thought patterns. Revised thought patterns shaped memory. I knew, looking at all those words, that memories were there, I just had to rearrange, add, subtract, sit, and sift until I found a way to free the memory.” 6 likes
“I learned you haven't read anything if you've only read something once or twice. Reading things more than twice was the reader version of revision.” 6 likes
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