Conversation with Kiese Laymon (Powell's Books, 2020)
In 2013 (or, maybe it was 2012), I read the essay "How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America." At the same time, I was a second year graduate student in the sociology doctoral program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Back then, so much of where I was and what I trying to become was unfamiliar to me. I'd taken three sociology courses in my entire undergraduate tenure (I was an African American Studies major). I had only learned what a Ph.D. was the summer before my senior year. I had never been to North Carolina. So much was unfamiliar to me.
But that essay was. It was familiar. It was Mississippi and Black Boy, like I call myself. Now, all this time later, I've read the book How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, in both of its iterations. And I recently had the chance to rap with the MississippiBlackBoy who wrote it—Kiese Laymon—someone who used to be, by virtue of his writing, an imaginary friend, someone who is now friend the regular way.
We talked about friendship, the debt and responsibility of doing work in our home state, the importance of "making" art that is both real and true, his book How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, and mine, I Don't Like the Blues: Race, Place, and the Backbeat of Black Life.