This book was not written for me. I am not the target audience, but I am so glad I read it. Published in 2018, it is still timely, especially given the death of George Floyd at the hands of those sworn to protect. Kiese Laymon's memoir is a penned letter to his mother. Laymon opens his book by stating that he wanted to write an American memoir, he wanted to write a lie, but decided to open his heart and bare the truth on what centuries of lies, stereotypes, pressure, and abuse have on Black bodies. It is gritty and guttural. It is raw and unflinching. It is one of those books that will hold a mirror up to you and make you confront your past, but inspire you to shape your future.
I listened to Heavy on audio and highly recommend it. I alternated between listening to the audio while I went on walks, to listening to the audio while following along on a physical copy (which I also highly recommend.) Laymon narrates his book which makes it even more impactful. Laymon bares his soul and shares the "heavy" topics that most of us keep close to the chest, such as sexuality, all forms of abuse (sexual, physical, and emotional), family dynamics, gambling addiction, eating disorders, racial disparity, classism, and sexism.
Heavy is an all encompassing term that is both a physical and emotional. It is not just a noun, or an adverb, or an adjective, but is all three combined. Laymon discusses his relationship with his body when he was at his highest weight of over 300 pounds to his lowest weight of just under 160 pounds. Laymon opens up about his relationship with food and how he mistreated his body for so many years, his cyclical relationship with his mother and her gambling addiction that eventually became his addiction, his relationships with women and sex, and his struggles through college and his career as an intelligent Black man, aspiring to be a writer, who had the world pushing against him.
A major theme that stood out in Heavy and still has me thinking about is Laymon's experiences with assimilation in white culture and the extreme backlash if you do not assimilate. Laymon's mother constantly drilled into his head that not only should he be good, he needed to be excellent, perfect, the best, so that he did not get crushed by the white man. Truer words have never been said, especially when Laymon shares his experiences in college and as a professor. He faced things that no white man in his same situation ever would have faced. It is appalling to listen to and incredibly impactful. Laymon uses his own life experiences to explain how broken our nation is and that we have two choices, ignore it and continue on as we have been, or acknowledge it and make things better.
Below is a quote from the end of Heavy that stuck out to me:
"The nation as it is currently constituted has never dealt with a yesterday or tomorrow where we are radically honest, generous, and tender with each other. It will, though. It will not be reformed. It will be bent, broken, undone, and rebuilt. The work of bending, breaking, and building the nation we deserve will not start or end with you or me; but that work will necessitate loving black family, however oddly shaped, however many queer, trans, cis, and gender-nonconforming mamas, daddies, aunties, comrades, nieces, nephews, granddaddies, and grandmamas-learning how to talk, listen, organize, imagine, strategize, and fight fight fight for and with black children."
Heavy by Kiese Laymon, page 239
Add this one to your list. Read it and take it in. Heavy by Kiese Laymon is a book that will enter your subconscious and never leave you.