Heavy ~ Kiese Laymon

Heavy: An American Memoir

Rating: 5/5

Heavy is the most incredible memoir I’ve read since Therese Marie Mailhot’s Heartberries. Heavy feels so honest, and Laymon is so eloquent. It’s clear to me as a reader that he’s put so much effort and emotion into each sentence, each page of writing.

Heavy is, as it sounds, a rather heavy read. Kiese Laymon discusses how rape, violence, addiction and mental health disorders have had many roles to play throughout his life, from childhood to adulthood. He makes room for mistakes, and shows moments filled with emotion, both positive and negative. This memoir is a letter to his mother, and he is clear from the beginning that he feels, “like all American children, I’ve been brutally dishonest with you. And like all American parents, you’ve been brutally dishonest with me.” He feels like so many of the truths about living in America are lost because we don’t talk to one another. So much continued violence stems from hiding away the things that are hurting us and letting them grow bigger and bigger inside us. Not making room to be vulnerable with each other about our hurts and our needs hurts our relationships.

What I love the most about this memoir is how fascinated he is with language. His love of language and passion for writing developed at an early age thanks to his mother’s own education. With a PhD, she continued to stress to him his whole life that the best way she could save him from white folk was to give him an education. She often would assign him essays when she would drop him off at a neighbors house who had encyclopedias, and then she would help him with the revision process. While at times he felt she took the message too far, it’s clear that he’s developed his own passion for writing and that it has proven to be a coping skill to help him in sorting out his emotions.

“Telling the truth was way different from finding the truth, and finding the truth had everything to do with revisiting and rearranging words. Revisiting and rearranging words didn’t only require vocabulary; it required will, and maybe courage. Revised word patterns were revised thought patterns.”

They way he grew up playing with words is such a beautiful insight into constructionism at such a young age. He and his friends would take apart and examine words, rebuilding them to suit what they were trying to say, what they were trying to mean. I love that Laymon has these conversations with his Grandmama too, and that he looks at what colloquialisms do for communities and communication as a whole.

Finally, I have to say this is the most intersectionally focused and honest book I have read yet. He talks about discovering authors that were writing to and from his people. I feel like he shines in that regard, as he is so brutally honest about himself. He sheds light on things that he was traumatized by, things he is still figuring out. He shows where he’s been, and where he hopes to go.

Despite being filled with deep and dark memories, Heavy gave me hope that we can continue to be more and more vulnerable with each other, and begin to fix some of the mistakes we continue to make towards ourselves and each other. I hope that we can all be more honest and create a more loving world.

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