I give very few starred reviews. This is one of them!!! See below for a letter one of my students – who got to meet her – wrote after reading her book.
Adult/High School–Ward lost five young men in four years, one of them her only brother. Their deaths were violent, a result of living poor, black, and male in the South. Just as she is not the same after living her experiences, readers aren’t the same after reading them. Indeed, her words are sensual: one can smell, taste, and feel what it’s like to grow up in poverty in Mississippi. What it’s like to cope, how a person survives, individually and collectively. Ward takes readers on a richly nuanced, visceral journey that enlightens and devastates as she was devastated. There are gems throughout: “We crawled through time like roaches through the linings of walls, the neglected spaces and hours, foolishly happy that we were still alive even as we did everything to die.” Teens will not only want to read this book, but they will want to have it on their shelves to revisit. The truth within is profound, illuminating what racism, poverty, social class, and self-hatred actually mean day-to-day, and how they impact men, women, family, society, and relationships. Ward’s memoir distills complexity; its structure both enhances her story and provides layers of meaning. The author alternates chapters of her growing-up years with the stories of the five men who died. There is an exquisite chapter about her father that brings the past and present together. Gorgeous, brutal, real, shining: dare it be said, perfect.–Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA
National Book Award winning writer Jesmyn Ward joins Fresh Air to discuss her new memoir “Men We Reaped” a story of death, loss, and love. She reads from her book:
This is where the past and the future meet. This is after the pit bull attack, after my father left and after my mother’s heart broke. This is after the bullies in the hallway, after the nigger jokes, after my brother told me what he’d done as we stood out on the street. This is after my father had six more children with four different women, which meant he had ten children total. This is after my mother stopped working for one White family who lived in a mansion on the beach and began working for another White family who lived in a large house on the bayou. This is after I’d earned two degrees, a crippling case of homesickness, and a lukewarm boyfriend at Stanford. This is before Ronald, before C.J. This is before Demond, before Rog. This is where my two stories come together. This is the summer of the year 2000. This is the last summer I will spend with my brother. This is the heart. This is. Every day, this is.
Letter from a student in response to author visit by Jesmyn Ward.
My name is Santiago <not his real name> and I read your articulately written book, Men We Reaped. You have very distinguished writing and a message to go along with it. I love to read and I usually read memoirs because they give me motivation. Your book did just that. I have a very close friend of mine named N: he was murdered in his home at the age of 17. I say “have” instead of “had” because he is in my heart always and forever. I do feel your pain because I’ve lost many friends and N was like my brother. I had a gun once, a 45 m. pistol. I imagined the cold barrel of the pistol on my temple and thought of how easy it would be to pull the trigger. As I imagined this I wondered to myself what would N want me to do. I figured it wasn’t reasonable nor would it satisfy my friend’s soul to end my own life.
I understand your want for things to end and imagine how euphoric it would feel to have no pain. The only difference between our situations is you wanting to cut and me wanting to shoot.
Your book gave me information I hadn’t known before. It gave me the sense of not feeling alone in my mourning for my friend, and for that, I thank you.