While we’re unable to meet in the theater, we’re taking our book club online. Join us on Friday, July 31 from 5-6pm on Zoom. We’ll be reading and discussing one of the texts from the NYU Office of Global Inclusion and Diversity’s Anti-Black Racism Education Resource List.


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.


 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 in Fiction from Indiana University. Laymon is currently the Ottilie Schillig Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Mississippi. He served as the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Nonfiction at the University of Iowa in Fall 2017.  Laymon is the author of the novel, Long Division  and a collection of essays,  How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, and Heavy: An American Memoir. Heavy, winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal, the LA Times Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose and Audible’s Audiobook of the Year, was named one of the Best Books of 2018 by the The Undefeated, New York TimesPublishers Weekly, NPR, Broadly, Library Journal The Washington Post Southern Living Entertainment Weekly, San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times Critics. Laymon is the recipient of the 2019 Austen Riggs Erikson Prize for Excellence in Mental Health Media. Laymon has written essays, stories and reviews for numerous publications including Esquire, McSweeneys, New York Times, Virginia Quarterly Review, ESPN the Magazine, Granta, Colorlines, NPR, LitHub, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, PEN Journal, Fader, Oxford American, Vanity Fair, The Best American Series, Ebony, Travel and Leisure, Paris Review, Guernica and more.

Talking Points

If you’re not sure where to start a conversation in a breakout room during Book Club, find an example in the text related to one of these themes. Or, pick a passage that stood out to you and share it with the group.

  • In the opening chapter, Laymon asks his grandmother a question she can’t answer, about “words, memory, emergencies, weight, and sexual violence in [their] family” (6) – all key themes in the book
  • “Black abundance” vs. the “meager”
  • Family legacy & Grandmama’s garden
  • Black masculinity & Black matriarchs (stereotypes vs. his experiences)
  • Racism & expectations: “Don’t be good… Be perfect. Be fantastic.” (120)
  • The complex roles of the education system in the text, from Laymon’s experiences as a student, the child of a teacher, to his own teaching
  • “I love losing weight” (145) vs. “Heavy enough for everything you need to be heavy enough for” (60)
  • “I wanted to write an American memoir. I wanted to write a lie.” (1) vs. the title Heavy: An American Memoir
  • In the first chapter, Laymon describes writing the “lie” he wants to write, but then states “I started over and wrote what we hoped I’d forget.” (2)
  • Laymon points out to his grandmother that most of her stories are in present tense. In contrast, he makes use of future tense throughout the book. The last chapter of the book is largely a series of statements in the future tense – “I will send a draft of the book to you when I think it’s done” (239) – do you read these as descriptions, anticipation, or promises?
  • Laymon asks of Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time: “I wondered how it would read differently had the entire book, and not just the first section, been written to, and for, Baldwin’s nephew. I wondered what, and how, Baldwin would have written to his niece… I wondered what black writers weren’t writing when we spent so much creative energy begging white folk to change.” (143-144)

Get Into It

The Paris Review

Interview with Kiese Laymon

“I think love exists to confront violence—emotional violence, geographic violence, race violence, gendered violence. So yeah, I think they definitely coexist because love is always attempting, not to smother violence, but to disarm violence in some way. And I think we often use violence as a backlash to love. Like Baldwin always says, and like Morrison teaches us, love is not pure. It’s dirty and it’s necessarily stanky and funky.”

The New York Times

Review by Saeed Jones: Heavy

Part of the wonder of Laymon’s book is his commitment to getting as close to the truth as possible, even when it means asking painful questions about what we owe the people who brought us into this world and, somehow, managed to keep us alive in it. In doing so, he compels us to consider the costs of an insistence on excellence as a means to an end and the only conceivable option for a black kid in America.

Close Reading

Boy Man

  • I did not want to write to you. I wanted to write a lie. I did not want to write honestly about lack lies, black thighs, black loves, black laughs, black foods, black additions, black stretch marks, black dollars, black words, black abuses, black blues, black belly buttons, black wins, black beens, black bends, black consent, black parents, or black children. I did not want to write about us. I wanted to write an American memoir. I wanted to write a lie. (1)
  • I wanted to center a something, a someone who wants us dead and dishonest. I wanted white Americans, who have proven themselves even more unwilling to confront their lies, to reconsider how their lies limit our access to good love, healthy choices, and second chances. (2)
  • No one in our family–and very few folks in this nation–has any desire to reckon with the weight of where we’ve been, which means no one in our family–and very few folks in this nation–wants to be free. (6)
  • Your insistence I read, reread, write, and revise in those books, made it so I would never be intimidated or easily impressed by words, punctuation, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and white space. You gave me a black southern laboratory to work with words. In that space, I learned how to assemble memory and imagination when I most wanted to die. (9)

Black Abundance

  • I always wondered why Grandmama never called people with less stuff than us “po’.” She called them “folk who ain’t got a pot to piss in” or “folk whose money ain’t all the way right” or “folk with nan dime to they name” but she never used “poor” or “po'” to talk about anything other  than people’s bodies. (50)
  • You and Grandmama were so hungry for black wins, regardless of how tiny those wins were. For Grandmama, those wins were always personal. For you, the wins were always political. Both of y’all knew, and showed me, how we didn’t even have to win for white folk to punish us. All we had to do was not lose the way they wanted us to. (52-53)
  • As much as I loved parts of church, and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t love the holy word coming from the pulpit. The voices carrying the word were slick and sure of themselves in ways I didn’t believe. … My problem with church was I knew what could have been. … I didn’t understand hell, partially because I didn’t believe any place could be hotter than Mississippi in August. But I understood feeling good. I did not feel good at Concord Missionary Baptist Church. I felt good watching Gradmama and her friends love each other during Home Mission. (54-55)
  • “If it is okay I just want to tell you about some secrets that be making my head hurt. I be eating too much and staying awake at night and fighting people in Jackson… I try but I can’t tell [Mama] what’s wrong. Can I tell you? Can you help me with my words? The words Mama make me use don’t work like they supposed to work.” (59)
  • “This that black abundance. Y’all don’t even know.” LaThon’s favorite vocab word in seventh grade was “abundance,” but I’d never heard him throw “black” and “that” in front of it until we got to St. Richard. … “Meager,” the opposite of LaThon’s favorite word, was my favorite word at the end of seventh grade. (66-67)
  • “Be twice as excellent and be twice as careful from this point on… Everything you thought you knew changes tomorrow. Being twice as excellent as white folk will get you half of what they get. Being anything less will get you hell.” (69)
  • You and Grandmama taught me white folk were capable of anything and not to be provoked, but [Eudora] Welty reminded me of what my eyes and ears taught me: white folk were scared and scary as all hell, so scared, so scary the words “scared” and “scary” weren’t scared or scary enough to describe them. I didn’t hate white folk. I didn’t fear white folk. I wasn’t easily impressed or even annoyed by white folk because even before I met actual white folk, I met every protagonist, antagonist, and writer of all the stories I ever read in first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. … So even if we didn’t know real white folk, we knew a lot of the characters white folk wanted to be, and we knew who we were to those characters. That meant we knew white folk. That means white folk did not know us. (71-72)
  • I never heard the words “sexual violence” or “violent sex” or “sexual abuse” from one family member, one teacher, or one preacher but my body knew sexual violence and violent sex were as wrong as anything police or white folk could do to us. (102)
  • I knew there was no way to not lose unless we took back every bit of what had been stolen fro us. I wanted all the money, the safety, the education, the healthy choices, and the second chances they stole. If we were to ever get what we were owed, I knew we had to take it all back without getting caught, because no creation on earth was as all-world as white folk at punishing the black whole for the supposed transgressions of one black individual. (107)

Home Worked

  • The editor of the piece told me I needed to make the ending of the piece much more color-blind. … I hated the last paragraph. I hated most of the essay, but I knew Nzola would be impressed that a two-thousand-word essay on institutional racism written by a black boy whose inner thighs she heavy petted almost told these white folk the truth to their faces. (142)
  • Ray Gunn introcued me to the word “antiblack” two weeks before I got kicked out of school. I was talking to him about patriarchy and he nodded and said patriarchy was like antiblackness. He said the problem with fighting white folk was even the most committed of black folk had to deal with their own relationships to “antiblackness.” I told him how LaThon and I used to say and believe black abundance. He said I should have learned a lot more about black abundance before I got kicked out of school for making educating white folks at Millsaps my homework. He was right. (155)
  • I didn’t listen to one black person who loved me because listening to black folk who loved me brought me little pleasure. I’d fallen in love with provoking white folk, which really meant I’d fallen in love with begging white folk to free us by demanding that they radically love themselves more. (155-156)
  • I will never forget the day I told you I’d be back soon, the day I burst your heart wide open, the day I left Mississippi, the day you called me your child, your best friend, your reason for living. I will write about home. I will do everything I can to never feel what I felt those last few years in Mississippi. I will bend. I will break. I will build. I will recover. I will not be back soon. (162)

Addict Americans

  • I realized that first week of teaching I had far more in common with my students than my colleagues, most of whom were white and older than Grandmama. … My firs week of class, I understood that none of my students, especially the black and brown ones who gravitated to me, wanted to be treated as noble exceptions to their communities. They wanted to be loved, inspired, protected, and heard. They didn’t want to be punished or unfairly disciplined for navigating the craziness that came with leaving home to sleep, eat, and drink with people they didn’t k now while learning in haunted classrooms and dorms. (180)
  • I found more ways to fail and harm my kids than I ever imagined. Every time I failed them, I knew I thought I was doing something you never would have done. (181)
  • I loved my job, and I understood the first week of school it was impossible to teach any student you despised. A teacher’s job was to responsibly love the students in front of them. If I was doing my job, I had to find a way to love the wealthy white boys I taught with the same integrity with which I loved my black students, even if the constitution of that love differed. This wasn’t easy because no matter how conscientious, radically curious, or politically active I encouraged Cole to be, teaching wealthy white boys like him meant I was being paid to really fortify Cole’s power. (191)
  • I was the lightest ‘d ever been since I was nine years old. … When I went to get up and call you again, I could not stand. … I lay on the floor of that tiny apartment listening to tenses in my body. I couldn’t feel the toes on my left foot. My left hip socket felt like it was being eaten out by fire ants. That Thursday, the first day in eight years I did not psh my body to exhaustion, my body knew what was going to happen, because it, and only it, knew what I’d made it do, and what I hoped it would forget. I sat on the floor knowing my body broke because I carried and created secrets that were way too heavy. (205-206)
  • You told me you loved me as we headed down Old Morton Road to Grandmama’s house. I told you I loved you, too. We meant different things, but we meant I love you. (212)
  • I kept coming back to the casino because I felt emptier and heavier when I lost than when I won. I couldn’t win, because if I didn’t have enough to begin with, I could never win enough to stop. And if I won, I came back to win more. And if I came back to win more, I would eventually lose. And after I eventually lost, I would remember the thrill of winning. No matter what, I would always come back with the stated intention of winning, and the unstated intention of harming myself. (214)
  • You stood over me while I sat on the edge of the bed. I looked up at your face. My body remembered, but my body did not flinch. My body did not shudder. My body did not brace. I wanted you to kneel down and hold my face in your hands I wanted you to say let’s please be honest about where we’ve been. I wanted you to be gentle. I wanted to remember being your child. (226)
  • For a few seconds, I remembered that the most abusive parts of our nation obsessively neglect yesterday while peddling in possibility. I remembered that we got here by refusing to honestly remember together. I remembered that it was easier to promise than it was to reckon or change. But I wanted to continue feeling delivered. I wanted to continue feeling fantastic. I wanted to continue feeling free. And I wanted to feel loved by both of us again. (231)
  • No meaningful promises are made or kept in casinos. (233)
  • I will watch Dougie, LaThon, Donnie Gee, Abby, Nzola, Ray Gunn, and scores of my students raise their children. I will avoid them all because I am ashamed of how heavy I’ve become and how childless I am. I will live and sleep alone, just like you. I will want to lie every day of my life, just like you. I will want to starve. I will want to gorge. I will want to punish my black body because fetishizing and punishing black bodies are what we are trained to do well in America. (234)
  • I will offer you my heart. I will offer you my head. I will offer you my body, my imagination, and my memory. I will ask you to give us a chance at a more meaningful process of healing. If we fall, give us a chance to fall honestly, compassionately together. The nation as it is currently constituted has never dealt with a yesterday or tomorrow where we were 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… learning how to talk, listen, organize, imagine, strategize, and fight fight fight for and with black children. (239)