Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
A Memoir

80%

8 Critic Reviews

She's candid enough to paint the flaws in the deceased as well as their good qualities. (In other words, Ward humanizes instead of canonizes.) She's also talented enough to turn such prose into poetry.
-NPR

Synopsis

In this stirring and clear-eyed memoir, the 2011 National Book Award winner contends with the deaths of five young men dear to her, and the still great 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 Jesmyn Ward

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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.
 
Published September 17, 2013 by Bloomsbury USA. 270 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Political & Social Sciences, Education & Reference. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Men We Reaped
All: 8 | Positive: 8 | Negative: 0

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Dwight Garner on Sep 17 2013

“Men We Reaped” reaffirms Ms. Ward’s substantial talent. It’s an elegiac book that’s rangy at the same time.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Tayari Jones on Sep 13 2013

Jesmyn Ward, a native of DeLisle, Miss., chronicles our American story in language that is raw, beautiful and dangerous...Ward’s memoir is an elegy for five young men dear to her who died in Mississippi between 2000 and 2004.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Gary Younge on Mar 06 2014

Melancholic and introspective rather than morbid and self-indulgent, it is really a story of what it is like to grow up smart, poor, black and female in America's deep south...The Men We Reaped is an eloquent account of a psychological, sociological and political condition all too often dismissed as an enduring pathology.

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Publishers Weekly

Good
on Jun 24 2013

Ward has a soft touch, making these stories heartbreakingly real through vivid portrayal and dialogue.

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NPR

Good
Reviewed by Richard Torres on Sep 17 2013

She's candid enough to paint the flaws in the deceased as well as their good qualities. (In other words, Ward humanizes instead of canonizes.) She's also talented enough to turn such prose into poetry.

Read Full Review of Men We Reaped: A Memoir | See more reviews from NPR

Financial Times

Good
Reviewed by Sukhdev Sandhu on Feb 28 2014

...there are truths in Men We Reaped that no amount of sociological reports or thundering op-ed columns could reveal...Men We Reaped is an incredibly sad book, but it is also an acute and often beautiful one.

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Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by PAMELA MILLER on Sep 14 2013

Thank heaven that Ward did not yield to the terrible temptation she describes to draw a razor across her wrist in despair after her brother’s death, but rather sat down and told this awful, necessary story.

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LA Times

Good
Reviewed by Hector Tobar on Sep 06 2013

Jesmyn Ward's heart-wrenching new memoir, "Men We Reaped," is a brilliant book about beauty and death. The beauty is in the bodies and the voices of the young men she grew up with in the towns of coastal Mississippi, where a kind of de facto segregation persists.

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Malinda Charter

Malinda Charter 22 Jul 2014

Added the book to custom list '2013 NPR'

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