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Heavy: An American Memoir

4.45  ·  Rating details ·  4,405 ratings  ·  791 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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4.45  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,405 ratings  ·  791 reviews

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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.
Diane S ☔
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 5000-2019, lor-2019
"I wanted to write a lie
I wanted that lie to be titillating.
I wrote that lie.
It was titillating.
You would have loved it.
I discovered nothing.
You would have loved it.
I started over and wrote what we hoped I'd forget."

So begins this letter, memoir that Laymon writes for and to his mother. Growing up in Jackson. Mississippi, to a brilliant and difficult to understand mother, he struggles to understand his place in the world, in his family. A house filled with books, and a mother that alternately hu
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
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I've struggled with this book - reading it, reviewing it - for a host of reasons. There has been a lot of discussion in Instagram about white people reading black memoirs and adding to the audience of suffering. I haven't participated in the discussion but I have been following it to a small extent.

On Friday, I went to a Beloved Community breakfast honoring Martin Luther King Jr., with 200 or so people from my community gathering together. The speaker was Wade Davis, an activist who is openly g
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
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have been attempting to write a review for this memoir, 'Heavy: An American Memoir' by Kiese Laymon for about a week. I can't explain why I've been having such a difficult time finding the words to describe this book and my feelings about it, especially since I consider it one of the most powerful memoirs I have ever read. Initially, I read a print copy of this book... which I've filled with post-it notes to mark various passages I wanted to return to. After finishing the print copy, I immedia ...more
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
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 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: usa, 2018-read
Now Winner of the Carnegie Medal for Nonfiction - well-deserved!!
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, intens
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
"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
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
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
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've been waiting on this book all year and it didn't disappoint.
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
i read this in three days and i am a slow reader. i am a bit shell-shocked. i feel i've been thrown into the spin cycle of the washing machine i don't have and kept there for 72 hours. i also feel tremendously humbled. i cannot say anything about this book because i'm not black and i'm not american. but i'm trying to learn, and i hope to have learned at least a fraction of what kiese laymon is offering in this incredible memoir.
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.
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This often poetic memoir reads as an open letter to Laymon’s mother. She always taught him not to excuse mediocrity. That as a black man he had to try harder, work harder. That he had to articulate his words. Yet, in her strict teachings, she overstepped boundaries. This is about the things that make and break us. Laymon excelled and succeeded, but in the process, he punished his body. It was one thing he could control. This is an honest, painful, and beautiful account of his life thus far. I wa ...more
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
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!
Kate Olson
Sep 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This memoir via audio felt like I, as the listener, was absorbing punch after punch after punishing blow. No relenting. Laymon addresses his words to his mother, and speaks TO her. That means in my ears, I heard him addressing ME. I was the one who beat him as a child. I was the one who hurt him and was hurt by him.

As a white woman listening to this memoir, I was crawling in my skin and sitting with the realization that the majority of his pain is caused, whether directly or indirectly, by the s
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
[4+] Kiese Laymon writes about his experiences with such immediacy that I felt as if I knew him when he was 9, 10, 16, 18, 21, 30 etc. There is no distance, he is living it on the pages. He shares the heaviness of his complicated relationship with his mother, his body, the white world around him in a way both sorrowful and graceful. I hope there is more to come from him. The audiobook was powerfully read by the author.
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
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
Chelsea A
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
Wendy Ortiz
Nov 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite books read this year.
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
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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
“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.” 9 likes
“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.” 7 likes
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