Kiese Laymon, the author of bestselling memoir “Heavy,” participated in a reading and Q&A session Thursday evening with the Hopwood Awards Program at the University of Michigan. Hosted by LSA English professor Cody Walker and Ashley Bates, Helen Zell Writers’ Program manager, the event featured a reading of Laymon’s newest work and a discussion on love, appreciation and hope in storytelling.
Laymon, a Jackson, Miss. native, began by performing a reading of his essays “Now Here We Go Again, We See the Crystal Visions,” a reflection on his experience through pandemic and “City Summer, Country Summer,” a look into Black boyhood during the summer in Jackson, Miss.
Laymon said he is partaking in more collaborative projects than in the past now that he is a more established author. His essay “City Summer, Country Summer” is being adapted into a picture book illustrated by Jamaican artist Ricardo Edwards, and it is to be released next June. Laymon also said he is partnering with producer Issa Rae in preparation for a book-to-movie adaptation for his memoir Heavy.
“I’m just really happy now that I get to collaborate with people and not spend so much time alone, working,” Laymon said.
Walker then asked about how the COVID-19 pandemic and renewed efforts in racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement have impacted his work. In response, Laymon said the process of repair, renewal and revision is necessary to deal with any kind of struggle, including the mourning of unjust deaths. He expressed the importance of repairing personal relationships, saying positive relationships give him strength to withstand any struggle.
“We can’t go into this ‘battle’ going in there thinking we’re okay,” Laymon said. “We have to hold each other accountable — we have to love each other tenderly. Much more importantly, when we harm each other, we have to do that hard work to tend to that and find ourselves in the process of restoration.”
Walker also asked Laymon about his writing process in Heavy, complimenting how Laymon interrogated himself about his own position and role in various issues present in America. Heavy details Laymon’s personal journey growing up as a Black young man in Jackson, Miss.
“I just think we need to be aware of the damages we can do as much as the wonder we can create,” Laymon said.
Walker expressed his own admiration for Laymon and his openness and commitment to kindness and love, particularly in his writing.
“I’ve just been really struck by the way you talk and write about love,” Walker said. “You use the word more easily, more freely than most people I know, most people I listen to or read. It’s just been a soul expanding, a soul challenging thing to think about as I’ve been listening to you.”
Laymon said it is also important to show gratitude and acknowledgment to others, noting that as a Black man, he himself comes from a community that was not publicly and appropriately honored in the past. He expressed his commitment to acknowledge his inspirations in his work, including his family members.
“I need to take this art in every way I can, but I need to always honor the person that made my trick on that page possible, and that’s my grandmother, and from a different degree, that’s my mama,” Laymon said.
Later on, the student audience had the opportunity to ask questions and talk with Laymon. LSA and Music, Theatre & Dance senior Sofia Wagner attended the event and told The Michigan Daily in an interview afterward that she admired Laymon and his way of storytelling.
“He just digs really deep — he doesn’t hide anything,” Wagner said. “He seems to really look for the most truthful way of telling something, of telling his story.”
Wagner commented on the thoughts and advice about relationships that Laymon shared with the audience during the event.
“I left the talk feeling hopeful for the first time in a long time about the world and its people,” Wagner said. “With his simple advice to repair and revise your personal relationships first and try to do the least harm you can do to people, I thought that was such a beautiful message.”
Laymon’s works are currently available at Literati Bookstore for curbside pickup.
Daily Contributor Elizabeth Hwang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.