Heavy: An American Memoir

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*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*

*WINNER of the Andrew Carnegie Medal and FINALIST for the Kirkus Prize *

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 state of American society and on his experiences with abuse, which conjure conflicted feelings of shame, joy, confusion and humiliation. Laymon invites us to consider the consequences of growing up in a nation wholly obsessed with progress yet wholly disinterested in the messy work of reckoning with where we’ve been.

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 his trek to New York as a young college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, Laymon asks himself, his mother, his nation, and 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 personal narrative that illuminates national failures, Heavy is defiant yet vulnerable, an insightful, often comical exploration of weight, identity, art, friendship, and family that begins with a confusing childhood—and continues through twenty-five years of haunting implosions and long reverberations.
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About the author

Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Kiese Laymon, Ottilie Schillig Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Mississippi, is the author of the novel Long Division and a collection of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. He is also the author of the memoir Heavy.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Simon and Schuster
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Published on
Oct 16, 2018
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Pages
256
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ISBN
9781501125690
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Cultural, Ethnic & Regional / General
Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs
Social Science / Ethnic Studies / African American Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Long Division includes two distinct but tightly interwoven stories--one called "All Things Considered," the other "Long Division." In the first, it's March 2012: 14-year-old Citoyen "City" Coldson and his nemesis, LaVander Peeler, become the first black male duo to win the state of Mississippi's “Can You Use This Word in a Sentence” contest finals. Both boys are asked to represent Mississippi at the televised national competition. (Hours before the contest begins, City is given a book without an author called "Long Division.") Turmoil and misunderstanding ensue, as City and LaVander learn they have reason to doubt the merit of their presence at the contest. “They want us to win,” City says to LaVander moments before the contest starts. After being assigned, and then misusing, the word “niggardly” in the first round of the contest, City has a remarkable on-stage meltdown in front of a national television audience. LaVander, on the other hand, though incredibly shaken, advances to the finals and has the chance to win the contest.

The day after the contest, City is sent to spend the weekend with his grandmother in the small coastal community of Melahatchie, which is also the site of the mysterious disappearance of girl named Baize Shephard. Baize Shephard also happens to be one of the main characters in the book "Long Division," which City has been dipping into throughout the story. While in Melahatchie, City's troubled Uncle Relle reveals that City has become an overnight YouTube celebrity thanks to his on-stage meltdown, and that he is being sought to appear on a new television show called "Youtube’s
Black Reality All Stars." City is alternately celebrated and ridiculed by the white and black residents of Melahatchie as a result of his performance at the contest, even as he delves deeper into "Long Division" and its story of the missing Baize Shephard.

When the neighborhood is convinced that a white man nicknamed Pot-Belly has assaulted Baize and done away with her body, they beat the man to death...or so City thinks, until he finds the man alive, chained up in a workshed in the back yard of his grandmother’s house. City visits the imprisoned white man four times during the course of his weekend--reading to him from "Long Division," asking him questions he's always wanted to ask white people, and promising to save him if he survives his own baptism, which his grandmother has engineered during City's visit. When LaVander appears, he and City must reluctantly work together again, this time to save the life of the white man chained in the workshed--and quite possibly the life of City’s grandmother, too.

There's something else that City finds especially interesting about "Long Division," besides the story of Baize: another main character in the book is also named City Coldson--except this City Coldson, who lives in Melahatchie, is 14 in 1985. This City will do anything to make Shalaya Crump love him--including traveling 26 years into the future (via a time portal they find in the woods) to steal a laptop and cellphone from a girl--a mysterious teenaged rapper named Baize Shephard, who lost her parents in Hurricane Katrina.

The following day, Shalaya and City meet another worn down time-traveler, this one from 1964, a boy named "Jewish" Evan Altshuler. Evan is desperate to protect his family against the Klu Klux Klan during Freedom Summer. He convinces Shalaya that he can help her find her parents and her future self if she brings the laptop computer back to 1964 and does him a favor.

Unexpectedly, City and Shalaya become separated, with Shalaya stuck in 1964 and City stuck in 2012. In their wanderings back and forward through time, much is revealed about City’s relationship with Baize, and about segregation, Freedom Summer, the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Oil spill, and the limits of technology
Eleven-year-old Cupcake Brown woke up on the bicentennial and found her mother still in bed. She struggled to wake her up, pushing and pulling until she managed to tug her mother's lifeless corpse onto her own small body, crushing her beneath its dead weight. After squeezing out from under her mother, Cupcake calmly walked over to the phone and called her aunt Lori. "Lori, my momma's dead."

Here is the threshold of a hell for young Cupcake. Rather than being allowed to live with the man she believed to be her father--who turns out to have been her stepfather--she is forced into a foster home where the kids were terrorized, the refrigerator padlocked, and Cupcake sexually abused. She eventually fled the house, only to find herself wandering from misadventure to misadventure in the "system," while also developing a massive appetite for drugs and alcohol, an appetite she paid for by turning tricks. She settled down in Los Angeles and found a home in the Crips, where she was taken in and befriended by gangsters like the legendary "Monster" Kody Scott. For the first time she found a family, but when Cupcake was blasted in the back with a 12-gauge shotgun, she was once more taken in by the system.

At 16, her stepfather reeneters her life and engineers an "emancipation," in which the courts declare her an adult and free her, finally, from the child welfare system. Cup takes advantage of her new freedom to start a drug-dealing operation with her stepfather, who also manages a stable of colorful prostitutes. Soon she meets a man, falls in love, and gets married. He convinces her to get a real job and learn to speak proper English--but he also abuses her and introduces her to crack cocaine. Cupcake flits from job to job, miraculously, given that she never fails to show up without some cocktail of narcotics floating in her system.

She hits rock bottom when, in desperation, she steals crack from her drug dealer. He beats her nearly to death, rapes her, and then leaves her body behind a dumpster. Cupcake wakes up days later, not sure of how she ended up in this state and from that moment begins to turn her life around. She was adopted by a lawyer who ran the law firm where she "worked," and slowly he assisted her in kicking the habit--with the help of an eccentric group of fellow addicts who became, at last, a family to her--and catching up on her education. With the support of her new family, she eventurally goes all the way to law school (although not without a few additional misadventures along the way) and joins one of the top law firms in the country.

Cupcake's story is an inspiring, at times hilarious, often distrubing, and deeply moving account of a singular woman who took on the worst of contemporary urban life and survived it with wit and a ferocious will. It updates classic memoirs like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Makes Me Wanna Holler, and gives a bold and gritty spin to contemporary memoirs like Finding Fish. At the center of it, Cupcake is a charming and inspiring narrator through the inferno of her life.


From the Compact Disc edition.
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Good Lord Bird, winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction, Five-Carat Soul, and Kill 'Em and Leave, a James Brown biography.

The incredible modern classic that Oprah.com calls one of the best memoirs of a generation and launched James McBride’s literary career.

Over two years on The New York Times bestseller list

Who is Ruth McBride Jordan? A self-declared "light-skinned" woman evasive about her ethnicity, yet steadfast in her love for her twelve black children. James McBride, journalist, musician, and son, explores his mother's past, as well as his own upbringing and heritage, in a poignant and powerful debut, The Color Of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother.

The son of a black minister and a woman who would not admit she was white, James McBride grew up in "orchestrated chaos" with his eleven siblings in the poor, all-black projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn. "Mommy," a fiercely protective woman with "dark eyes full of pep and fire," herded her brood to Manhattan's free cultural events, sent them off on buses to the best (and mainly Jewish) schools, demanded good grades, and commanded respect. As a young man, McBride saw his mother as a source of embarrassment, worry, and confusion—and reached thirty before he began to discover the truth about her early life and long-buried pain.

In The Color of Water, McBride retraces his mother's footsteps and, through her searing and spirited voice, recreates her remarkable story. The daughter of a failed itinerant Orthodox rabbi, she was born Rachel Shilsky (actually Ruchel Dwara Zylska) in Poland on April 1, 1921. Fleeing pogroms, her family emigrated to America and ultimately settled in Suffolk, Virginia, a small town where anti-Semitism and racial tensions ran high. With candor and immediacy, Ruth describes her parents' loveless marriage; her fragile, handicapped mother; her cruel, sexually-abusive father; and the rest of the family and life she abandoned.

At seventeen, after fleeing Virginia and settling in New York City, Ruth married a black minister and founded the all- black New Brown Memorial Baptist Church in her Red Hook living room. "God is the color of water," Ruth McBride taught her children, firmly convinced that life's blessings and life's values transcend race. Twice widowed, and continually confronting overwhelming adversity and racism, Ruth's determination, drive and discipline saw her dozen children through college—and most through graduate school. At age 65, she herself received a degree in social work from Temple University.

Interspersed throughout his mother's compelling narrative, McBride shares candid recollections of his own experiences as a mixed-race child of poverty, his flirtations with drugs and violence, and his eventual self- realization and professional success. The Color of Water touches readers of all colors as a vivid portrait of growing up, a haunting meditation on race and identity, and a lyrical valentine to a mother from her son.

 

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