I should’ve gone to therapy but instead I came back to Mississippi.
October 17, 2018 5:27 AM   Subscribe

Bim Adewunmi on Kiese Laymon and his new book, Heavy. I write the way I write because my mother and my grandmother encouraged me not to write that way most of my life... But also, I listened to them talk to one another. And sometimes in private, I would hear my mother and my grandmother and my aunts talking in a way that I had never...just nothing I had read sounded like that. Maybe some Toni Morrison sounded like it, but I just heard them reckoning in a way that I wanted do in my art. I know English. I know all the rules. I read damn near all the books. I mean, I literally have to read all the books! So if I wanna fuck around with the language, I can do that. Because my mama created a fucking reading machine.”

Some of Kiese Laymon's essays are published online (some discussed here previously):

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: A Remembrance
(discussed previously)
I've had guns pulled on me by four people under Central Mississippi skies — once by a white undercover cop, once by a young brother trying to rob me for the leftovers of a weak work-study check, once by my mother and twice by myself. Not sure how or if I've helped many folks say yes to life but I've definitely aided in few folks dying slowly in America, all without the aid of a gun.
You Are the Second Person
“The success of your book will be partially dependent on readers who have a different sensibility than your intended audience,” he writes. “As I’ve already said to you, too many sections of the book feel forced for the purpose of discussing racial politics. Think social media. Think comment sections. Those white people buy books, too, bro. Readers, especially white readers, are tired of black writers playing the wrong race card. If you’re gonna play it (and I think you should) play it right. Look at Tarrantino. He is about to fool all these people into believing they were watching a black movie with Django. I guarantee you that whiteness will anchor almost every scene. That’s one model you should think about.”
What I Pledge Allegiance To
There's a raggedy American flag hanging outside my house. I know I should take it down, but I'm afraid.
The Worst of White Folks
The worst of white folks, I understood, wasn’t some gang of rabid white people in crisp pillowcases and shaved heads. The worst of white folks was a pathetic, powerful “it.” It conveniently forgot that it came to this country on a boat, then reacted violently when anything or anyone suggested it share. The worst of white folks wanted our mamas and grandmas to work themselves sick for a tiny sliver of an American pie it needed to believe it had made from scratch. It was all at once crazy-making and quick to violently discipline us for acting crazy. It had an insatiable appetite for virtuoso black performance and routine black suffering.


I Am a Big Black Man Who Will Never Own a Gun Because I Know I Would Use It
Those shotguns, and the stories surrounding those shotguns, always reminded to me that my black, deeply Southern family had neither devotion nor fidelity to white folk who could not see us. White folk who could not see us, sometimes led by police, often led by presidents and public policy, had no problems finding creative ways to encourage our death, destruction, and suffering. They could not see us, but they could always see our guns, whether the guns existed or not. These white folk had no devotion, no fidelity to us, and little love for themselves. Still, as good Christians, we often prayed for them and said things like, “Bless their heart, Lord, because they know not what they do.” But if they ever knew not what they did on our property, near our porch, against the bodies of our family, they were going to get shot. Or shot at.

This is not a metaphor.


Hey Mama
Hey Mama, I’m feeling alone this morning. I miss Mississippi. I miss you. How you feeling?

Hey Kie, I’m tired. I’m wearing the pearl bracelet that you gave me. It is so beautiful. This morning I managed to get it locked alone. Did you hug yourself this morning?


My Vassar College Faculty ID Makes Everything OK (previously)
The fourth time a Poughkeepsie police officer told me that my Vassar College Faculty ID could make everything OK was three years ago. I was driving down Wilbur Avenue. When the white police officer, whose head was way too small for his neck, asked if my truck was stolen, I laughed, said no, and shamefully showed him my license and my ID, just like Lanre Akinsiku. The ID, which ensures that I can spend the rest of my life in a lush state park with fat fearless squirrels, surrounded by enlightened white folks who love talking about Jon Stewart, Obama, and civility, has been washed so many times it doesn’t lie flat.
posted by ChuraChura (14 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
 
I remember his earlier essay that got all the attention. His new book sounds interesting and worth checking out.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:54 AM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


Great post. Long Division was a wonderful book, both grim and hilarious, but that You Are the Second Person essay really makes it shocking that it ever managed to see the light of day.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 7:16 AM on October 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm proud to be from Mississippi. Inspite of her history and her faults. I'm glad that he is too.
posted by GreatValhalla at 8:00 AM on October 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


I'm very much looking forward to reading this one. How to Kill Yourself was an excellent collection.
posted by praemunire at 8:25 AM on October 17, 2018


I'm proud to be from Mississippi.
I am not. I wish my parents had had the presence of mind to leave. It's a blighted, bigoted place, and it's not likely to ever change. I'm baffled by people who manage to leave and somehow get pulled back.
posted by uberchet at 8:43 AM on October 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


"You are the Second Person" just makes me want to scream.

Does the narrator really need to be a black boy? Does the story really need to take place in Mississippi?

JFC yes and yes

And also if y'all haven't read Long Division, do that. Being from Mississippi makes my feelings about that book and its people more intense than they probably would be otherwise. I'm not sure if that's a source of pride, exactly, but loving the good parts is not something I want to avoid.
posted by asperity at 9:10 AM on October 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


Another really thoughtful post. I'm making my way slowly through the links but o my god just the beginning of reading How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others is giving me bad anxiety.

Thanks for this.

Also it's nice to see a young journalist get into her stride. Big Nigerian diaspora in the States, though I believe Bim started her career in UK.
posted by glasseyes at 10:41 AM on October 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


I read "How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others" back to back with Citizen. I cried a lot during both.

Also, Requiem for Fifth Period and the Things That Went on Then by Eve Ewing is mentioned. It's good and deep.
posted by Gorgik at 12:51 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


Just finished reading You are the Second Person and I really want to buy Long Division now. Brandon can fuck right off, what a moron.
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:59 PM on October 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


Thank you for this excellent post. The Bim Adewunmi piece is wonderful (I appreciate the inclusion of the community of contemporary writers and thinkers that Laymon is in conversation with!), and Heavy sounds like it'll be tough but worthwhile reading.

How to Slowly Kill Yourself in America and Long Division are both fantastic books, so sharp and so deep with love. It's angering to learn the deal Laymon got for those books was so terrible, because the contribution those books make (to American lit, to our conversations about America and race, and selfishly to me) is so great.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 2:03 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


I placed Long Division and How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America on hold at the library after reading a review of Heavy on The Atlantic's website (I placed a hold on Heavy as well but that's still listed as being on order so who knows when they'll actually get it). I picked them up last week and was planning to start on them this morning so when I saw this FPP I took it as a sign to get reading, especially because the interview mentioned that Kiese Laymon was teaching Octavia Butler's Kindred in his class and the other book I had picked up last week was The Parable of the Sower which I read over the weekend. How To Slowly Kill Yourself is so rooted in when it was written I wonder what he would write about Kanye West or Obama now.

My wife is in teacher's college right now so I found this quote about teachers at the end of the article interesting:
“I was supposed to be a teacher. That’s what I know I was supposed to do. My mom is a teacher; my grandmama taught Sunday school; both my aunts are teachers. The art of teaching, I love it. Because in my heart, I really believe if somehow we could get the most dynamic, kind, loving teachers in the world in every classroom in the country and give these motherfucking teachers all the resources they need — pay them right, give them the best benefits — I literally think we could change everything about the world. In my heart. I know people are like, ‘It’s not about education, it’s about policy.’ Fuck that shit. In my heart, I think it’s education. I think the writing I try to do, that’s sort of education. But it’s hard to even get there when most of these schools don’t have enough resources. These teachers aren’t being paid shit. And even the teachers that are being paid well: Are they really versed in actual liberatory fucking understandings of the world? I don’t think so. Not usually. I believe education could change all this shit, and because of that, I love teaching. I’m a teacher, man. That’s my main thing. At this point in my life, I make more money writing, but in my heart, teaching is my thing. I’m a teacher, man. That’s my main thing."
She has had to do a ton or reading on critical pedagogy (applying critical theory to education). It may be a function of the school she's at but so far there's been a huge focus on the "actual liberatory understandings of the world". I'm going to forward this to her to read and maybe share with her classmates (not that she has time to read anything outside of her coursework right now).
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:37 PM on October 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


I came here to QFT the paragraph any portmanteau in a storm dropped in above.

It's well worth repeating:

The art of teaching, I love it. Because in my heart, I really believe if somehow we could get the most dynamic, kind, loving teachers in the world in every classroom in the country and give these motherfucking teachers all the resources they need — pay them right, give them the best benefits — I literally think we could change everything about the world. In my heart. I know people are like, ‘It’s not about education, it’s about policy.’ Fuck that shit. In my heart, I think it’s education.
posted by chavenet at 6:48 AM on October 18, 2018


I ended up reading all of How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America yesterday and then started on Long Division, which is a really funny book. At one point I audibly laughed and my wife (who was busy doing her coursework) asked if there wasn't anything else that I had to do.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:38 PM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Hell yeah. I am working myself up to read Heavy, since I suspect it's going to do its title justice. While Long Division has plenty of material that's not so light, it hasn't got a heavy feel to it. Those kids are winsome as hell.
posted by asperity at 2:29 PM on October 18, 2018


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