Survival Math is a brilliant memoir told in a unique and powerful voice. Jackson explores his family history, the history of Portland, and the larger issues that surrounded his childhood. “Survival math” refers to the hard economic choices he and his family made in one the whitest cities in America. Jackson’s eloquent and mesmerizing prose makes this a standout read. Recommended By Mary Jo S., Powells.com
Combining scholarship and personal history, and writing with his uniquely brilliant voice, Mitchell Jackson takes on the struggles, consequences, and even responsibilities that spring from growing up with the inherited burden of poverty and marginalization. Survival Math is a gorgeously crafted memoir and, in its wider scope, a downright important book. Recommended By Gigi L., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
In a thrillingly alive, candid new work, award-winning author Mitchell S. Jackson takes us inside the drug-ravaged neighborhood and struggling family of his youth, while examining the cultural forces — large and small — that led him and his family to this place.
With a poet’s gifted ear, a novelist’s sense of narrative, and a journalist’s unsentimental eye, Mitchell S. Jackson candidly explores his tumultuous youth in the other America. Survival Math takes its name from the calculations Mitchell and his family made to keep safe — to stay alive — in their community, a small black neighborhood in Portland, Oregon blighted by drugs, violence, poverty, and governmental neglect.
Survival Math is both a personal reckoning and a vital addition to the national conversation about race. Mitchell explores the Portland of his childhood, tracing the ways in which his family managed their lives in and around drugs, prostitution, gangs, and imprisonment as members of a tiny black population in one of the country’s whitest cities. He discusses sex work and serial killers, gangs and guns, near-death experiences, composite fathers, the concept of “hustle,” and the destructive power of drugs and addiction on family.
In examining the conflicts within his family and community, Jackson presents a microcosm of struggle and survival in contemporary urban America — an exploration of the forces that shaped his life, his city, and the lives of so many black men like him. As Jackson charts his own path from drug dealer to published novelist, he gives us a heartbreaking, fascinating, lovingly rendered view of the injustices and victories, large and small, that defined his youth.
"Survival Math is a compassionate meditation on the human costs of this country's ongoing war on black lives, and — more importantly — the methods we employ to endure despite it all. Mitchell Jackson calls on his singular linguistic gifts to craft this story of redemption and maturation with honesty and style." Angela Flournoy, author of The Turner House
“Survival Math is the best memoir I’ve read in ages. With honesty, insight, and a tremendous amount of heart, Mitchell S. Jackson takes us deep into the stories that made, ruined, and saved him. I had the feeling while reading it that I’d never read anything quite like it before. It’s intimate and wise; poignant and compassionate; redemptive and raw. You have to read this beautiful book.” Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild
"An extensive and illuminating look at the city of [Jackson's] childhood, exploring issues like sex, violence, addiction, community, and the toll this takes on a person’s life." Buzzfeed, Most Anticipated Books of 2019
“This is more than Jackson’s story, and as he traces his great-grandparents’ exodus from Alabama to Portland and the subsequent lives of his relatives… he captures the cyclical nature of poverty and neglect…The prose is a stunning mix of internal monologue and historical and religious references that he incorporates to tell his story…Thanks to Jackson’s fresh voice, this powerful autobiography shines an important light on the generational problems of America’s oft-forgotten urban communities.” Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"Vivid and unflinching... Mitchell’s memoir in essays chronicles the struggles of friends and family with drugs, racism, violence, and hopelessness and puts a face on the cyclical nature of poverty." Boston Globe, Most Anticipated Books of 2019
About the Author
Mitchell S. Jackson is the author of Survival Math. His debut novel The Residue Years was praised by publications, including The New York Times, The Paris Review, and The Times (London). The novel won the Ernest Gaines Prize for Literary Excellence, and it was also a finalist for the Center for Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award for First Fiction, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Jackson’s honors include fellowships from the Whiting Foundation, TED, the Lannan Foundation, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Center for Fiction. His writing has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Salon, and Tin House, among other publications. He serves on the faculty at New York University and Columbia University.