Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

Emphatic and unsparing, Kiese Laymon’s Heavy explores the weight of wellness in a culture obsessed with lean. His expansive intelligence and fluid prose bear up to haunting family secrets and American deceptions with deep, potent wells of beauty, humor, and empathy.

Initially conceived as a weight-loss story chronicling his family’s struggles with food and violence, the writing of Heavy, which was recently named a finalist for the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction, got murkier when relatives sidestepped his interview questions or lied altogether. “We’re a family, like most families, of addicts, but we never talked about the addiction,” he says. “We would talk about losing weight or gaining weight but we never talked about why. We never talked about particular memories around domestic, sexual, and racial violence.”

He became convinced that no one in his family wanted to reckon with the weight of where they had been or do the work of freeing themselves of it. “You need to keep that for your journal,” his mother would say of the revealing material he wished to mine for the book. “Nobody else needs to see that kind of writing.”

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