Award-winning author Mitchell S. Jackson takes us inside the drug-ravaged neighborhood and struggling family of his youth, while examining the cultural forces—large and small—that led him and his family to this place.
... vibrant ... Jackson recognizes there is too much for one conventional form, and his various storytelling methods imbue the book with an unpredictable dexterity. It is sharp and unshrinking in depictions of his life, his relatives (blood kin and otherwise), and his Pacific Northwest hometown, which serves as both inescapable character and villain ... One device Jackson uses to great effect are what he calls 'survivor files,' interviews with men in his family detailing their experiences with gangs, infidelity, and incarceration ... [Jackson's] virtuosic wail of a book reminds us that for a black person in America, it can never be that easy.
Jackson’s work is a model of autobiographical writing that demonstrates how reportage and critical attention to the complexities of black life — its intersectional textures — can be the source material for an inimitable memoir ... Throughout Survival Math, Jackson writes with a keen attentiveness to the social contexts shaping the lives of his family, offering nuanced depictions that upend the stereotypes that often cage us in ... Jackson, like his contemporary Kiese Laymon, author of the recent memoir Heavy, has produced a work that faces this task head on ... Survival Math makes it clear that blackness is never a deficit. And yet as Jackson reminds us, even those of us who are black men must be certain not to rely on a computational system, steeped in anti-black racist patriarchy, to save ourselves while harming others.
The biggest challenge in describing Mitchell S. Jackson's Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family is whether to be appropriately effusive and risk seeming like I'm in his pay — or to be more tempered and risk underselling the brilliance of this memoir in essays ... One of the book's many treasures is Jackson's attentiveness to providing historical context for the forces shaping his family members and the place they call home. These forays into history are as wide-ranging as they are engaging ... Jackson's searing intelligence is on full display throughout the work, but it is particularly notable when he takes on the problems of gentrification, white supremacy and corporations that gain their wealth off the bodies of the poor. Equally striking is the author's unflinching commitment to turn his critical eye inward ... From searching for a kidnapped daughter to a repeatedly delayed prison release to facing eviction as a teenager, these pieces are as moving as they are powerful.