Men We Reaped: A Memoir (Hardcover)
October 2013 Indie Next List
“Men We Reaped is one of the rare nonfiction books that seem destined to become a literary classic. National Book Award-winner Ward intertwines the story of her life growing up poor and black in rural coastal Mississippi with the lives of five young men she was close to -- including her brother -- who died within a two-year span soon after she finished college. Ward writes with fire and passion as she captures the day-to-day systemic injustices and struggles that she and her family faced. Also clear is the deep love and roots that tie her to the people and place where she was raised. This book will break your heart, make you think, and get you angry. In the tradition of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, this is memoir at its finest.”
— Caitlin Caulfield, Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, MA
Named one of the Best Books of the Century by New York Magazine
Two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward (Salvage the Bones, Sing, Unburied, Sing) contends with the deaths of five young men dear to her, and the risk of being a black man in the rural South.
“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
In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life—to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: Why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth—and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.
Jesmyn grew up in poverty in rural 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 agonizing 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 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.
About the Author
Jesmyn Ward grew up in DeLisle, Mississippi. She received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won five Hopwood awards for essays, drama, and fiction. A Stegner Fellow at Stanford, from 2008-2010, she has been named the 2010-11 Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Her debut novel, Where the Line Bleeds, was an Essence Magazine Book Club selection, a Black Caucus of the ALA Honor Award recipient, and a finalist for both the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. In 2017, she was awarded a McArthur Genius Grant.
“An important, and perhaps even essential, book.” —Skip Horack, San Francisco Chronicle
“[Ward] chronicles our American story in language that is raw, beautiful and dangerous… [Her] singular voice and her full embrace of her anger and sorrow set this work apart from those that have trodden similar ground… With loving and vivid recollection, she returns flesh to the bones of statistics and allows her ghosts to live again… [It's a] complicated and courageous testimony.” —Tayari Jones, The New York Times Book Review
“Heart-wrenching… A brilliant book about beauty and death… at once a coming-of-age story and a kind of mourning song… filled [with] intimate and familial moments, each described with the passion and precision of the polished novelist Ward has become… 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.” —Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times
“A memoir about loss in rural Mississippi that burns with brilliance.” —Harper's Bazaar
“A memoir that is as searing as her fiction, as poignant and as timely... in a country that is supposed to be post racial but still seems hell-bent on the epidemic destruction of young black men.” —Edwidge Danticat, The Progressive
“A memoir that, in plainsong prose punctuated with sudden poetic flashes, schools us in the unforgiving experiences from which [Ward] has drawn her triumphal fiction… It paints in unshowy colors her impoverished coming-of-age in the narrow strip of lowlands where Mississippi touches the Gulf of Mexico… [Ward is an] eloquent envoy from a forgotten part of America… [Men We Reaped is an] unvarnished and penetrating view into the infernal machinery of race hatred, pervasive mistrust, self-loathing, drugs, guns, and life's bloody accidents.” —Ben Dickinson, Elle
“Devastating… 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… 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.” —Oprah.com
“An important contemporary voice: a sensitive, lyrical narrator of difficult stories from the land of Faulkner and Welty.” —The New York Times
“A lovely book about stuff so painful that Ward must have written it in a kind of fever… The final chapters are so moving you have to avert your eyes, both for the trauma and the tenderness.” —Entertainment Weekly
“[A] riveting memoir of the ghosts that haunt her hometown in Mississippi… Ward has a soft touch, making these stories heartbreakingly real through vivid portrayal and dialogue.” —Publishers Weekly
“A vivid and searing look at the legacy of racism in the U.S. by a writer with exceptional narrative gifts... In [Ward's] hands, the cultural and personal are inseparable… 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 Edwidge Danticat, Alice Walker and Maya Angelou as a gifted chronicler of the crucible of an inequitable culture.” —Shelf Awareness
“Ward closely examined the heartbreakingly relentless deaths of her young relatives and friends growing up in [her] small town… [She] lovingly profiles each of those she lost, including a brother, a cousin, and close friends, and their tragic ends as she weaves her family history and details her own difficulties of breaking away from home and the desperate need to do so. This is beautifully written homage, with a pathos and understanding that come from being a part of the culture described.” —Booklist
“An assured yet scarifying memoir by young, supremely gifted novelist Ward… 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 (starred review)
“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, US Poet Laureate, author of Thrall and Native Guard, winner of the Pulitzer Prize