Synopses & Reviews
Author and essayist Kiese Laymon is one of the most unique, stirring, and insightful new voices in American social and cultural commentary. How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America
is a collection of his finest essays, touching on subjects diverse as family, race, violence, celebrity, music, writing, and coming of age in the rural Mississippi Gulf Coast. Laymon's writing is always honest, while also being alternately funny, lacerating, and wise.
In How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, Laymon draws heavily upon his own past, which is filled with personal trials and reflections of those trials across the broader American culture. As revealed in the book's titular essay, Laymon attended three colleges before earning his undergraduate degree. He was suspended from the first of these institutions, Millsaps College, following a probationary period resulting from a controversial essay. As the school's president described it, the "Key Essay in question was written by Kiese Laymon, a controversial writer who consistently editorializes on race issues." Controversy seems to follow this talented young writer, but as he himself puts it, "my job is to ask questions, to broaden the scope of American literature by broadening the scope of who is written to and imaginatively writes back."
Laymon possesses one of the most entertaining, poignant, and fresh voices in contemporary American writing, while his acerbic wit, colloquial style, and clarion insights will remind readers of a modern Mark Twain. Much like Twain, Laymon's writing is steeped in controversial issues both private and public. From his biting critiques of race politics to revelations of his own internal struggles with American "blackness," Laymon taps into an ongoing conversation that is played out consciously and subconsciously across all of our artistic, cultural, political, and economic realities.
This collection introduces Laymon as a young writer who delicately balances volatile concepts on a razor's edge, bringing to the foreground much-discussed and often-misunderstood topics through his scathing humor, moral struggles, confessional revelations, and telling observations of people's absurdities, frivolousness, and resilience. His acumen for the eloquently put and clearly posed phrase has been widely praised, as essays in this collection have already appeared in Gawker, Esquire, ESPN.com, and other popular outlets. His young career is already continuing the legacies of great writers such as Christopher Hitchens, Kurt Vonnegut, and Nora Ephron, and with his debut novel Long Division (Agate Bolden, June 2013) and How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America releasing nearly simultaneously, Laymon is ready to make a splash across the literary world.
"A curious, enjoyable novel...take[s] relish in skewering the disingenuous masquerade of institutional racism..." Publishers Weekly
"Laymon's debut novel is an ambitious mix of contemporary southern gothic
with Murakamiesque magical realism.... the book elegantly showcases
Laymon's command of voice and storytelling skill in a tale that is at
once dreamlike and concrete, personal and political." Booklist
"Funny, astute and searching.... The author's satirical instincts are
excellent. He is also intimately attuned to the confusion of young black
Americans who live under the shadow of a history that they only
gropingly understand and must try to fill in for themselves." Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
"A novel within a novelhilarious, moving and occasionally dizzying. . .
. Laymon cleverly interweaves his narrative threads and connects
characters in surprising and seemingly impossible ways. Laymon moves us
dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and
incorporates themes of prejudice, confusion and love rooted in an
emphatically post-Katrina world." Kirkus Reviews
"[How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America] is not intended to serve as 'a woe-is-we narrative' about the difficulties of being black in America or the South...or even an attempt to illuminate the taboo-amongst-black-folk subject of mental health although both serve as narrative threads in Laymon's writing. Rather, it's an exercise in recalling memories." Jackson Free Press
About the Author
Kiese Laymon was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. He attended Millsaps College and Jackson State University before graduating from Oberlin College in 1998. He earned an MFA from Indiana University in 2003 and is now an associate professor at Vassar College.