Men We Reaped A Memoir


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Bloomsbury USA


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1608197654

9781608197651

272 Pages

$16.00

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A National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee
A New York Times Best Non-fiction of the Year
A Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year
A San Francisco Chronicle Top 10 Book of the Year
 “We saw the lightning and that was the guns; and then we heard the thunder and that was the big guns; and then we heard the rain falling and that was the blood falling; and when we came to get in the crops, it was dead men that we reaped.” —Harriet Tubman

Jesmyn's memoir shines a light on the community she comes from, a small town in Mississippi, a place of quiet beauty and fierce attachment. Here, in the space of four years, she lost five young men dear to her, including her beloved brother—lost to drugs, accidents, murder, and suicide. Their deaths were seemingly unconnected, yet their lives had been connected, by identity and place, and as Jesmyn dealt with these losses, she came to a staggering truth: These young men died because of who they were and the place they were from, because certain disadvantages breed a certain kind of bad luck. Because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. The agonizing reality commanded Jesmyn to write, at last, their true stories and her own.

Jesmyn grew up in poverty in rural DeLisle, Mississippi. She writes powerfully about the pressures this brings, on the men who can do no right and the women who stand in for family in a society where the men are often absent. She bravely tells her story, revisiting the painful losses of her only brother and her friends. As the sole member of her family to leave home and pursue higher education, she writes about this parallel American universe with the objectivity distance provides and the intimacy of utter familiarity. A brutal world rendered beautifully, Jesmyn Ward’s memoir will sit comfortably alongside classics Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I'm Dying, Tobias Wolff's This Boy’s Life, and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

REVIEWS

Praise for Men We Reaped

"Jesmyn Ward, a native of DeLisle, Miss., chronicles our American story in language that is raw, beautiful, and dangerous . . . Ward's singular voice and her full embrace of her anger and sorrow set this work apart from those that have trodden similar ground."—Tayari Jones, The New York Times Book Review

"Men We Reaped reaffirms Ms. Ward's substantial talent. It's an elegiac book that's rangy at the same time. She thinks back about her brother, and about her old dead friends, and about their nighttime adventures in cars. Then she declares, 'I don't ride with anyone like that anymore.'"—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“This electric memoir is in part about what it means to be a black man in the modern American South. We’re introduced to five young men, all close to the author, who died too early. But it’s also the story of Ms. Ward’s own adolescence in rural Mississippi. It’s wild, this book; it glows.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times Book Review

"A brilliant book about beauty and death . . . Ward fills almost every page of Men We Reaped with lyrical descriptions of the people and the land . . . Ward is one of those rare writers who's traveled across America's deepening class rift with her sense of truth intact. What she gives back to her community is the hurtful honesty of the best literary art . . . Men We Reaped is the stirring and sad record of . . . a quiet violence that is sweeping through many American communitie, but that has not yet destroyed the resilient people who live within them."—Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times 

"A grim, beautiful memoir . . . Men We Reaped is an often beautiful book, perhaps most moving when Ward writes about growing up in food-stamp-level poverty and the dissolution of her parents' marriage. It also puts the full beam of Ward's literary vision on the lives and expectations of rural black people in the Deep South, perhaps one of the smallest bookshelves in the library."—Neely Tucker, The Washington Post

"This book reminds us that life is hard, and harder still for those who have to wonder what the value of life is . . . Ward's words are heavy, profound, and honest. They take us beyond the news headlines that often strip young black men of their humanity . . . Ward offers these men voices and challenges the reader to weight their flesh. She forces the question again: What is the value of black life? But by the end we consider the question with a little more compassion—and a little more attention to how we came to value our own lives."—Antwaun Sargent, Chicago Tribune

"[A] superb memoir . . . Ward's deceptively conversational prose masks her uncommon skill at imagery. She makes you feel the anguish of each lost life, as well as her survivor's guilt, with its ever-present haunt of memory."—Richard Torres, NPR.org

"Ward writes as both a careful observer and primary character. Her portraits are sharp and loving . . . One of Ward's greatest accomplishment here is the way she dissects the complicated roles of black men and women, as they related to her own family and friends . . . [a] brave and moving tribute."—Hope Reese, The Boston Globe

"Grief and anger punctuate Ward's Men We Reaped; it is a proclamation against remaining silent in the face of so much tragedy and injustice . . . It is not an easy journey, but Ward's writing is a rebellion against everything she learns as she comes of age. Bringing ghosts back to life, refusing to let their deaths be in vain Ward's memoir is a triumph."—Elaina Smith, The Kansas City Star 

"Ward is unflinching as she tells of the instances of drug abuse, incest, underage pregnancies, infidelity and racism that affected her childhood and early adulthood . . . Men We Reaped is a sad, funny, touching and disturbing look at its author's life and the lives that touched hers even after their sparks had gone out. It is real. It breathes and struggles and fights against the unfairness of life and the inevitability of day following night. And it offers a heartfelt look at a culture many readers may be vaguely aware of but are too unnerved by to venture any closer to for further study."—The Oklahoman

"Jesmyn Ward's memoir Men We Reaped is a as beautiful, and sad, and scary, and as bone deep in its sense of suffering as a song by Howlin' Wolf."—Jim Higgins, Journal Sentinel

“Between 2000 and 2004, five men who were close to Ward—a brother, a cousin, friends—died violently: guns, cars, drugs, suicide. Ward, who won the National Book Award in 2011 for her novel Salvage the Bones, weaves their stories around and through her own to create a picture of life as a young black person in the rural south, and what it took for her to get out. Men We Reaped (the title is adapted from a Harriet Tubman quote) is bare of self-pity, but lavishly endowed with literary craft and hard-earned wisdom.”—Lev Grossman, Time magazine

"If there's a disconnect between Ward's refined prose and the rawness in her story, it only serves to emphasize her ambivalence toward both the life she has achieve and the one she strove to leave behind."—Sarah Stodola, The Daily Beast

“Jesmyn Ward writes to keep her heart from exploding. Men We Reaped, an accounting of the deaths, in four years, of five men close to her, is beautifully written and gut-wrenchingly sad. 'Grief doesn't fade,' she writes. 'Grief scabs over like my scars and pulls into new, painful configurations as it knits. It hurts in new ways.' Ward writes about her dead brother and dead friends with loving detail: their eyes, their smiles and the color of their skin. Her writing revives the dead men and allows them to speak from beyond the grave: 'Hello. We are here. Listen.'”—Luis Clemens, NPR
"Ward’s angry, anguished memoir about the five young black men from her small town in Mississippi killed in a five-year span. The memoir circles closer and closer, painfully but clear-sightedly approaching the life at its center: that of Ward’s brother, the first of the five young men to die. But Ward isn’t just mourning, she’s fighting: Her book is both memorial and extended polemic, a vigorous attack on the entrenched racism and economic injustice that keeps the men of an entire town forever on the edge of death.”—Dan Kois, Slate 

“If the 2011 National Book Award for her novel Salvage The Bones wasn’t evidence enough that Jesmyn Ward is one of our finest writers, Men We Reaped has proven both her talent and her vital importance to American literature. This deeply honest memoir interweaves the story of Ward’s youth in poverty-stricken rural Mississippi with chapters recounting the death of one young black man from her community—and even her own family—after another, examining how the author dealt with the grief, and interrogating why this country still can’t fix the plagues of poverty and institutionalized racism. Put simply, Men We Reaped is [the year’s] most necessary book.”—Jason Diamond, Flavorpill
"A brilliant piece of work . . . What Ward has, over and above the pundits, is a deep and careful sense of context of the way lingering over a person's outfit or a short memory of the way we used to talk, can better sketch out the whole person than a short segment on the 11 o'clock news . . . That sort of carefulness, the carefulness of a good novelist, is what makes Men We Reaped a more complicated and this vital bit of work than any op-ed writer could possibly provide . . . the thing we can do is get more books of this kind on the shelves, and in people's hands, and get them discussed."—Michelle Dean, Flavorwire

"Men We Reaped gathers much of its force from the brutal honesty of Ward's self-portrait—and from her clear-eyed appraisal of the white society that has admitted her to the table of privilege."—Fabiola Santiago, The Miami Herald

"[A] bruising and beautiful memoir . . . Men We Reaped gathers much of its force from the brutal honesty of Ward's self-portrait—and from her clear-eyed appraisal of the white society that has admitted her to the table of privilege."—Chris Waddington, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

"Ward is an exceptional writer who brings her friends and family to life in excruciating detail. In the end, the reader feels as if he or she has lived the story. It is a story of love and hate, pleasure and pain, life and death, and therefore it is each of our stories."—Scott Hawkins, Sun Herald (Gulfport)

"If you want to understand the black experience in America, if you want to comprehend how f-cked up things truly are, you need to read this book . . . Ward's resilience is impressive, and her writing more so. However similar or dissimilar your experience to hers, you need to read this book."—Cari Wade Gervin, Knoxville Metro Pulse

"The good news, at least for readers, is that Ward tells a rotten fucking story fucking brilliantly. Her prose is conversational and unadorned. It’s deceptively simple, until a moment of wrenching tragedy—or, surprisingly often, one of astounding beauty—arrives with dangerous propulsion, knocking you off the footing that had seemed so secure."—Rebecca Johnson, Willamette Week

“[Ward’s] story unfolds in a narrative that slowly circles, then in the end plunges to the heart of her life’s realization.”—Lisa Loving, The Skanner

“Jesmyn Ward, with an honesty few other writers often express, bravely recounts her own story of being an African American living in poverty in rural Mississippi over the last few decades. This story is her truth.”—Justin C. Young, Washington Independent Review of Books

Men We Reaped is focused on the author's adolescence, and could have gone wrong in any number of ways (distance and disapproval, judgment, maudlin oversimplification). But if there’s one thing Ward’s surprise 2011 National Book Award taught her audience, it’s that she is not to be underestimated.”—Caitlin Van Horn, Bustle

“Ward is a vivid, urgent writer, and here she is bearing witness to poverty and racism, the inequality that plagues her community and so many others like it. ‘There is a great darkness bearing down on our lives,’ she writes, and her story shines a light on this darkness, reminding us we will never be able to lift it if we do not at least look.”—Ruth Baron, Oprah.com

"Ward gives her memoir Men We Reaped the same acute social observation, unexpected narrative turns and lyrical prose that lifted [Salvage the Bones] into an experience beyond merely reading . . . You'll wish this tragedy were fictional, which is exactly Ward's point . . . the gift she nurtured enables her to lovingly and truthfully give voice to five men—and countless other lost brothers."—Patrick Henry Bass, Essence

Men We Reaped is a powerful ode to five men Ward lost to drugs, suicide, bad luck, and violence. The force of Ward’s astonishing voice enacts a resurrection—you’ll mourn these men as if they’re your brothers. An important, unflinching look at the repercussions of economic hardship and racism in rural Mississippi.”—Cosmopolitan

"Jesmyn Ward left her Gulf Coast home for education and experience, but it called her back. It called on her in most painful ways, to mourn. In Men We Reaped, Jesmyn unburies her dead, that they may live again. And through this emotional excavation, she forces us to see the problems of place and race that led these men to their early graves. Full of beauty, love, and dignity, Men We Reaped is a haunting and essential read."—Natasha Trethewey, United States Poet Laureate, author of Thrall and Native Guard, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

"Jesmyn Ward is simply sui generis. I am reminded of Miles Davis’ quote: ‘Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there,’ after reading her memoir, Men We Reaped. This is one mighty virtuosic, bluesy hymn. Beautiful."—Oscar Hijuelos, author of Thoughts without Cigarettes

"Jesmyn Ward is an alchemist. She transmutes pain and loss into gold. Men We Reaped illustrates hardships but thankfully, vitally, it's just as clear about the humor, the intelligence, the tenderness, the brilliance of the folks in DeLisle, Mississippi. A community that’s usually wiped off the literary map can’t be erased when it’s in a book this good."—Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver

"Men We Reaped is a fiercely felt meditation on the value of life that at once reminds us of its infinite worth and indicts us—as a society—for our selective, casual complicity in devaluing it. Ward’s account of these losses is founded in a compelling emotional honesty, and graced with moments of stark poetry."—Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl

"Jesmyn Ward's memoir is a miracle. In it, she writes with such clarity and beauty that her discoveries and revelations could very well change the way her readers understand the world. She also makes the unbearable nearly bearable with her poetic prose and her life-affirming passion. This is fierce, brave exploration, but it is also—timeless, universal, and unrelentingly inspired."—Laura Kasischke, author of The Raising

"Jesmyn Ward returns to the world of her first two books, but here in the mode of non-fiction. A clear-eyed witness to the harrowing stories of ‘men we reaped,’ she quickens the dead and brings them, vividly alive again. An eloquent, grief-steeped account."—Nicholas Delbanco, author of Lastingness: The Art of Old Age

Men We Reaped is a stunning look at racism, the people it marginalizes and how we are all implicated. It is moving, honest, compassionate and rigorous. It is loving and raw, full of grief and anger, personal and objective, shocking and inevitable. Ward stands alongside writers like Edwige Danticat, Alice Walker and Maya Angelou as a gifted chronicler of the crucible of an inequitable culture.”—Shelf Awareness

"Searingly honest and brutal, Ward holds nothing back as she strives to find her way in a community that she both loves and hates . . . In Men We Reaped, [Ward] . . . makes us understand that these men mattered—that their lives were worth something after all."—Bookpage

"An assured yet scarifying memoir by young, supremely gifted novelist [Jesmyn] Ward . . . With more gumption than many, Ward battled not only the indifferent odds of rural poverty, but also the endless racism of her classmates . . . A modern rejoinder to Black Like Me, Beloved and other stories of struggle and redemption—beautifully written, if sometimes too sad to bear."—Kirkus Reviews

"This is a beautifully written homage, with a pathos and understanding that come from being a part of the culture described."—Booklist

"In her National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones (one of my favorite novels ever), Ward writes so sharply and affectingly of African American life in the rural South that everyone should be anticipating this memoir cum social observation." —Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

"Riveting . . . Ward has a soft touch, making these stories heartbreakingly real through vivid portrayal and dialogue."—Publishers Weekly
 

Reviews from Goodreads

BACK

BOOK EXCERPTS

Read an Excerpt

Jesmyn Ward received her M.F.A. from the University of Michigan and is currently an assistant professor of creative writing at Tulane University. She is the author of the novels Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, the latter of which won the 2011 National Book Award and was a finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Ward grew up in DeLisle, Mississippi, and lives there now.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


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  • Jesmyn Ward received her M.F.A. from the University of Michigan and is currently an assistant professor of creative writing at Tulane University. She is the author of the novels Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, the latter of which won the 2011 National Book Award and was a finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Ward grew up in DeLisle, Mississippi, and lives there now.
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