I must say, Kie, as your true friend...that by adding six rich new essays, deftly curating seven from the original book, and reworking the chronology, you have made a once solid collection superb ... Contextualizing the 'where and why' of Laymon’s making as an artist provides the narrative thrust of the book, as readers are escorted back in time, ending, chronologically, at the beginning ... Ever-present throughout How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America is the blues ethos of stating and confronting the brutal facts of life and of placing a high premium on style, improvisation and excellence. The ethos here is steeped in that particular Mississippi stank, for which Laymon’s grandmother is a living embodiment ... brilliant.
In revisiting these essays, Laymon responds to the voice he had nearly a decade ago, and to the echo of his own work speaking to his ghosts, and the echo of the people he wrote to in his home, which he can now more clearly hear. Laymon often talks about how he 'had to write to be a decent human being.' How the act of not-writing is stagnation, how that stagnation leads to him slowly killing himself and those he loves. Writing is movement, and movement is needed for peoples that don’t always have a physical space that is a welcoming home. And revision is how you keep the conversation going with yourself, and your readers. Revision is how you improve your work, your home, yourself. It is how you build yourself a home with your writing, even if just in words and art, as home is not always afforded to us in physical spaces in this world ... Laymon has to keep writing—to not-write, to not-revise, is to be silent, is to quiet the echoes, is to slowly kill himself and others ... he will continue to use his love, his voice, to write to his peoples, and he will continue to revise off the echo of his own writing, off his own personal ghosts, off the ghosts of the peoples that came before him, off the written monuments they memorialized. And he can continue to revise and use his voice for his peoples, for his home, for those of us that follow him, and our responses can echo back, as we all examine what is wrong with us, as we all examine how we slowly kill ourselves and those we love in America, as we build homes for ourselves.
I’m here to tell you that while you might successfully read every page in one sitting (and you’ll want to), it will take days to fully absorb their richness. When you read Laymon’s writing, you are engaging in a conversation that takes place both on and off the page. This is a book you will find yourself revisiting and discussing, with yourself and others, over and over ... Laymon approaches issues of race with a wide lens, encompassing both personal and social aspects, revealing that they are irreversibly intertwined — what happens socially shapes our personal lives, and vice versa. His narrative is unapologetic and fierce but never without a distinct lyricism and intentionality, even tenderness ... The influence of love — familial, romantic, fraternal, and particularly self-love — appears even in the most heated and despairing moments of the essays. Laymon probes the relationship with the self, often arriving at the conclusion that the absence of love leads to physical, emotional, and mental violence both suffered and inflicted on others – often in the form of racial and gender violence ... Black male feminism resounds throughout this collection. He steps outside of himself often to imagine the struggles of Black women with disarming candor and characteristic tenderness ... Black male feminism resounds throughout this collection. He steps outside of himself often to imagine the struggles of Black women with disarming candor and characteristic tenderness ... so, the discussion goes on, with Laymon inviting us to lean into the messiness of collaboration, to embrace the potential of revision with one another as well as ourselves — to keep the conversation going.