Laymon has a voice that is singular and devastating in its honesty. I'm not in the business of claiming a book changed my life, but reading this book shifted something foundational. A truly outstanding memoir. Recommended By Britney T., Powells.com
Kiese Laymon combines the personal and the political to come up with one of the most beautiful, compassionate, and courageous memoirs I have ever read. It's not an easy read, but it is a powerful and important one. Recommended By Sandy M., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
*Named a Best Book of 2018 by the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, NPR, Broadly, The Undefeated, Library Journal (Biography/Memoirs), The Washington Post (Nonfiction), Southern Living (Southern), Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Times Critics*
In this powerful, provocative, and universally lauded memoir — shortlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal and Kirkus Prize — genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon "provocatively meditates on his trauma growing up as a black man, and in turn crafts an essential polemic against American moral rot" (Entertainment Weekly).
In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to time in New York as a college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. Heavy is a "gorgeous, gutting...generous" (The New York Times) memoir that combines personal stories with piercing intellect to reflect both on the strife of American society and on Laymon's experiences with abuse. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, he asks us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.
"A book for people who appreciated Roxane Gay's memoir Hunger" (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel), Heavy is defiant yet vulnerable, an insightful, often comical exploration of weight, identity, art, friendship, and family through years of haunting implosions and long reverberations. "You won't be able to put this memoir] down...It is packed with reminders of how black dreams get skewed and deferred, yet are also pregnant with the possibility that a kind of redemption may lie in intimate grappling with black realities" (The Atlantic).
“Heavy is a gorgeous, gutting book that’s fueled by candor yet freighted with ambivalence. It’s full of devotion and betrayal, euphoria and anguish, tender embraces and rough abuse…the liberation on offer doesn’t feel light and unburdened; it feels heavy like the title, and heavy like the truth…Salvation would feel too weightless — as if [Laymon] could forget who he is and where he has been. This generous, searching book explores all the forces that can stop even the most buoyant hopes from ever leaving the ground.” New York Times
“[Heavy] take[s] on the important work of exposing the damage done to America, especially its black population, by the failure to confront the myths, half-truths, and lies at the foundation of the success stories that the nation worships. In the process, Laymon...dramatize[s] a very different route to victory: the quest to forge a self by speaking hard truths, resisting exploitation, and absorbing with grace the cost of being black in America while struggling to live a life of virtue…You won’t be able to put [this memoir] down, but not because [it is] breezy reading. [It is], in Laymon’s multilayered word, heavy — packed with reminders of how black dreams get skewed and deferred yet are also pregnant with the possibility that a kind of redemption may lie in intimate grappling with black realities.” The Atlantic
“With echoes of Roxane Gay and John Edgar Wideman, Laymon defiantly exposes the ‘aches and changes’ of growing up black in this raw, cathartic memoir reckoning with his turbulent Mississippi childhood, adolescent obesity, and the white gaze.” O Magazine
“Heavy is one of the most important and intense books of the year because of the unyielding, profoundly original and utterly heartbreaking way it addresses and undermines expectations for what exactly it’s like to possess and make use of a male black body in America…the book thunders as an indictment of hope, a condemnation of anyone ever looking forward.” LA Times
“You do not just read Kiese Laymon's work. It does a reading of you too — one that unburies the stories you thought you would never be able to tell truthfully, and reminds you of your voice to tell them. Heavy marks this quality in its highest definition yet. Written with as much devastating poignance as a humor only the Black South could inspire, Heavy asks readers not just to observe Laymon's courageous journey to understand even the most frightening complexities of life in an anti-Black, sexist, fatphobic society, but to embark on it with him. In doing so, Laymon's gorgeous wordsmithing moves us beyond simple binaries of pleasure and pain, joy and trauma, toward a deeper love for communities too often flattened into one dimension. Heavy is a book for the ages.” Hari Ziyad, author of Black Boy Out of Time
"What I have always loved about Kiese Laymon is that he is as beautiful a person as he is a writer. What he manages to do in the space of a sentence is unparalleled, and that’s because no one else practices the art of revision as an act of love quite like Kiese. He loves his mother, his grandmama, Mississippi, black folks, his students, his peers, and anyone else willing to embrace his love enough to give us this gorgeous memoir, Heavy. This reckoning with trauma, terror, fear, sexual violence, abuse, addiction, family, secrets, lies, truth, and the weight of the nation and his body would be affecting in less capable hands, but with Kiese at the helm it is nothing short of a modern classic. These sentences that he so painstakingly crafted are some the most arresting ever printed in the English language. Kiese’s heart and humor shine through, and we are blessed to have such raw humanity rendered in prose that begs for repeat readings. We do not deserve Heavy. We do not deserve Kiese. That he is generous enough to share is testament to his commitment to helping us all heal." Mychal Denzel Smith, author of Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching
“Stunning…Laymon is a gifted wordsmith born and educated in the land of Welty and Faulkner, and his use of language, character and sense of place put Heavy neatly into the storied Southern Gothic canon. Yet the defining elements of his art — cadence, dialogue, eye for detail, mordant wit — are firmly rooted in the African-American experience. Laymon has created Gothic's not-so-distant black relative…for a book that has the author's disturbing childhood as a metaphor for African-Americans' pursuit of unattained happiness and perhaps unattainable racial freedom, Heavy is surprisingly light on its feet.” Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Heavy is a compelling record of American violence and family violence, and the wide, rutted embrace of family love…Kiese Laymon is a star in the American literary firmament, with a voice that is courageous, honest, loving, and singularly beautiful. Heavy is at once a paean to the Deep South, a condemnation of our fat-averse culture, and a brilliantly rendered memoir of growing up black, and bookish, and entangled in a family that is as challenging as it is grounding.” NPR.org
“Staggering…Laymon lays out his life with startling introspection. Heavy is comforting in its familiarity, yet exacting in its originality...Laymon subtitled his book, ‘An American Memoir,’ and that’s more than a grandiose proclamation. He is a son of this nation whose soil is stained with the blood and sweat of his ancestors. In a country both deserving of his love and hate, Laymon is distinctly American. Like the woman who raised him and the woman who raised her, he carries that weight, finding uplift from sorrow and shelter from the storms that batter black bodies.” Boston Globe
About the Author
Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Kiese Laymon, Ottilie Schillig Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Mississippi, is the author of the novel Long Division and a collection of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. He is also the author of the memoir Heavy.