Cover of Heavy


An American Memoir

Kiese Laymon

his memoir was just obscenely lauded before I even had a chance to crack it open. This unflinching recounting of the kinds of secrets and struggles most of us have a hard time sharing with anyone is riveting and rewarding. Expect hard truths about America, about societal violence and family violence, about family and art and identity. There’s a through-line about the value of reading and writing, but it’s a bruising account from start to finish.

Leymon and I grew up in the same town at the same time, but his skill as a writer showed me in new clarity how different his experience as a black youth in Mississippi in the 80s and 90s was than mine as a white one. I remember getting hooked into this immediately the day I listened to the first chapter. I was hiking around one of the more scenic spots in all of Oregon, Crater Lake, as I pressed play. About five minutes in, the clouds descended and it began to hail. Somehow it was fitting.

his is one of those books you finish and think: there isn’t a person in America who shouldn’t read this. Or, perhaps even better, listen to the author read his own text in the audiobook (this short piece written while recording the audiobook can give you a flavor for Leymon’s flinty, beautiful but unvarnished prose).

Book Info

Scribner (2019), 256 pages
ISBN/EAN Product Code
Publisher Description

Named a Best Book of 2018 by the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, NPR, Broadly, Buzzfeed (Nonfiction), 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—winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal and finalist for the 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). (Publisher’s Description)

On this shelf:
Audiobooks for the trail: a memory palace the size of a nation-state