“Kiese Laymon is a star in the American literary firmament, with a voice that is courageous, honest, loving, and singularly beautiful.”
—Martha Anne Toll, NPR
Kiese Laymon is a Black southern writer from Jackson, Mississippi. In his observant, often hilarious work, Laymon does battle with the personal and the political: race and family, body and shame, poverty and place. His savage humor and clear-eyed perceptiveness have earned him comparisons to Ta-Nehisi Coates, Alice Walker, and Mark Twain. He is the author of the award-winning memoir Heavy, the groundbreaking essay collection How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, and the genre-defying novel Long Division.
Laymon’s powerful bestselling memoir, Heavy: An American Memoir, won the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, and the 2018 Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose, and was named one of the 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years by The New York Times. In this fearless, provocative book, Laymon unpacks what a lifetime of secrets and lies does to a Black body, a Black family, and a nation hunkered on the edge of moral collapse. Reginald Dwayne Betts, author of A Question of Freedom and Bastards of the Reagan Era, calls Heavy “the most honest and intimate account of growing up black and southern since Richard Wright’s Black Boy.” In a starred review, Kirkus wrote, “Laymon skillfully couches his provocative subject matter in language that is pyrotechnic and unmistakably his own…. A dynamic memoir that is unsettling in all the best ways.” Heavy was named a best book of 2018 by the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, NPR, Broadly, Buzzfeed, The Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly; and a finalist for the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction and was a nominee for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. The audiobook, read by the author, was named the Audible 2018 Audiobook of the Year.
“Smart and funny and sharp.”
—Jesmyn Ward, two-time National Book Award winner
When Laymon was a contributing editor at Gawker, he wrote an essay called “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America.” This harrowing piece, which describes four incidents in which Laymon was threatened with a gun, evolved into a collection of lacerating essays on race, violence, celebrity, family, and creativity. How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America “rarely smiles” and “never relents,” writes Oscar Quine in The Independent: “What this book really does brilliantly is elucidate the depreciated nature of a life lived as a black American.” Writing for The Rumpus, Stacie Williams called the book “stirring and fresh, literary but ultimately approachable.” Laymon’s voice in How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America is profoundly compelling, as unignorable as it is familiar: “Though the blues impulse is present, he raps familiar, like an older brother. His pieces tend to reach a gospel crescendo, like a preacher” (The Rumpus). Three essays from How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America were selected for inclusion in the Best American series and The Atlantic’s best essays of 2013.
Laymon’s debut novel, Long Division, combines elements of science fiction, satire, and social commentary into a book that Sam Sacks, writing in The Wall Street Journal, called “funny, astute and searching.” Sacks praised Laymon’s “satirical instincts” and concluded that Long Division is “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.”
In Long Division, 14-year-old City, a newly minted YouTube star, is sent to stay with family in rural Melahatchie, Mississippi. What happens next transgresses the boundaries of fiction and reality, present and past, as City travels through time. Kirkus called it “hilarious, moving and occasionally dizzying.” Booklist noted that Long Division “elegantly showcases Laymon’s command of voice and storytelling skill in a tale that is at once dreamlike and concrete, personal and political,” and praised the novel for its “ambitious mix of contemporary southern gothic with Murakamiesque magical realism.” The novel was honored with the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing in 2014, and was shortlisted for a number of other awards, including The Believer Book Award, the Morning News Tournament of Books, and the Ernest J. Gaines Fiction Award.
Laymon is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Esquire, ESPN The Magazine, NPR, Colorlines, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Ebony, Guernica, The Oxford American, Lit Hub, and many others in addition to Gawker. A member of Black Artists for Freedom, he was named to the Ebony Magazine Power 100 in 2015 and selected as a member of the Root 100 in 2013 and 2014. A graduate of Oberlin College, he holds an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. He founded the Catherine Coleman Initiative for the Arts and Social Justice at the University of Mississippi where he taught for years. He is at work on several new projects including the long poem, Good God; the horror novel, And So On; the children’s book, City Summer, Country Summer; and the personal narrative about family and Mississippi, I Don’t Know What You Mean.here.