How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America
By Kiese Laymon
(Agate Bolden, Paperback, 9781932841770, 148pp.)
Publication Date: August 2013
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Author and essayist Kiese Laymon is one of the most unique, stirring, and powerful new voices in American social and cultural commentary. How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America is a collection of Laymon's essays on subjects ranging from family, race, violence, and celebrity to music, writing, and coming of age in Mississippi. Laymon's writing is smart, unflinchingly honest, lacerating, and unexpectedly funny.
In How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, Laymon deals in depth with his own personal story, filled with trials (and reflections on those trials) that illuminate underappreciated aspects of contemporary American life. As revealed in the book's title essay, Laymon attended three colleges before earning his undergraduate degree. He was suspended from the first of these institutions, Millsaps College, following a probationary period resulting from a controversial essay he published on campus. As the school's president described it, the "Key Essay in question was written by Kiese Laymon, a controversial writer who consistently editorializes on race issues." Controversy seemed to follow this young writer, but as he himself puts it, "my job is to ask questions, to broaden the scope of American literature by broadening the scope of who is written to and imaginatively writes back."
Laymon's voice is something new and unexpected in contemporary American writing. Mixing a colloquial voice with acerbic wit, sharp insights, and blast-furnace heat, he calls to mind a black 21st-century Mark Twain. Much like Twain, Laymon's writing is steeped in controversial issues, both private and public. From his biting critiques of race politics to revelations of his own internal struggles with American "blackness," Laymon taps into an ongoing conversation that is played out consciously and subconsciously across all of our artistic, cultural, political, and economic realities.
This collection introduces Laymon as a writer who balances volatile concepts on a razor's edge, and who chops up much-discussed and often-misunderstood topics with his scathing humor and fresh, unexpected takes on the ongoing absurdities, frivolities, and calamities of American life.
After an editor asked him to tone down his racial politics, the first-time author walked away from his book deal, moved to a smaller press and eventually published two books to critical acclaim. He hopes his story helps make the case for why publishers should welcome different voices to the table. More at NPR.org
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