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Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward
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Men We Reaped: A Memoir (2013)

by Jesmyn Ward

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In this hard-hitting memoir, Jesmyn Ward explores two specific topics - her experience of growing up in Mississippi and the deaths of 5 men in her life in a 5-year period - in order to make a larger commentary on what life is like for the communities of poor and Black people in the American South. Both of Jesmyn's parents suffered with severe poverty, limited opportunities, broken families, dashed hopes, systematic racism and sexism, and cruel realities. Their communities tend to reinforce these problems. The behaviors and coping mechanisms that are learned in order to deal with these cruelties lead to other issues such as drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, incarceration, and even death.

The way that the author writes about the people and situations in her life, you feel that she's speaking her deep, honest truth. Her prose is beautiful and fluid, especially when paired with the harshness of her life and the tragedies that she and her friends/family have endured. There are many instances where she writes sentiments that she wishes she would have been able to say in the past, but was too young or immature or hurting to understand. Her reflections show a maturity and thoughtful introspection that is unbelievably moving.

To give others a glimpse of what her life was like, and also to attempt to explore and explain the motives and societal prejudices that force them, is a gift that we don't deserve. We don't deserve it, because we contribute to the society that maintains rampant poverty, racism, sexism, and severe prejudice. But, with writings like MEN WE REAPED, there is hope that society can grow and change for the better. ( )
  BooksForYears | Nov 14, 2016 |
In this hard-hitting memoir, Jesmyn Ward explores two specific topics - her experience of growing up in Mississippi and the deaths of 5 men in her life in a 5-year period - in order to make a larger commentary on what life is like for the communities of poor and Black people in the American South. Both of Jesmyn's parents suffered with severe poverty, limited opportunities, broken families, dashed hopes, systematic racism and sexism, and cruel realities. Their communities tend to reinforce these problems. The behaviors and coping mechanisms that are learned in order to deal with these cruelties lead to other issues such as drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, incarceration, and even death.

The way that the author writes about the people and situations in her life, you feel that she's speaking her deep, honest truth. Her prose is beautiful and fluid, especially when paired with the harshness of her life and the tragedies that she and her friends/family have endured. There are many instances where she writes sentiments that she wishes she would have been able to say in the past, but was too young or immature or hurting to understand. Her reflections show a maturity and thoughtful introspection that is unbelievably moving.

To give others a glimpse of what her life was like, and also to attempt to explore and explain the motives and societal prejudices that force them, is a gift that we don't deserve. We don't deserve it, because we contribute to the society that maintains rampant poverty, racism, sexism, and severe prejudice. But, with writings like MEN WE REAPED, there is hope that society can grow and change for the better. ( )
  BooksForYears | Nov 4, 2016 |
From 2000 to 2004, five young men who were close to Jesmyn Ward died. Each was killed in a different way, and each left an abiding mark in her life. This is their story, and hers: of growing up in rural Mississippi, Black and poor.

Jesmyn's memoir has a unique format, starting with her family history and moving forward, but interspersed the stories of the "men we reaped," working backwards through those deaths until the stories converge at the very end. Her heartbreak and wrestling with grief and why this happened permeates every page. I struggled at times to wholeheartedly accept her understanding of events, but she writes powerfully and has created a loving tribute to her friends and family. ( )
  bell7 | Oct 17, 2016 |
A gut wrenching memoir of growing up in Mississippi. ( )
  mjlivi | Feb 2, 2016 |
Originally posted at https://olduvaireads.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/nonfiction-november-men-we-reaped-by-jesmyn-ward/

Jesmyn Ward’s book is full of anger and grief. The death of four people close to you will do that. First her brother dies, in October 2000, then by summer 2004, three of her friends had died as well. She is still hurting, it is evident from every line in the book, every word that she pours out onto the page.

Ward takes us through her life, growing up poor in Mississippi, and in between these recollections of her life, she talks about the lives of her friends – and their deaths through accidents, drugs, suicide. She thinks back to the last time she saw them, to how she found out the news of their deaths, and the reactions of their loved ones. She also examines the socioeconomic factors that have affected their lives and their community:

“And the school administration at the time solved the problem of the Black male by practicing a kind of benign neglect. Years later, that benign neglect would turn malignant and would involve illegal strip searches of middle schoolers accused of drug dealing, typing these same students as troublemakers, laying a thick paper trail of imagined or real discipline offenses, and once the paper trail grew thick enough, kicking out the students who endangered the blue-ribbon rating with lackluster grades and test scores.”

And how she sought escape in books

“I think my love for books sprang from my need to escape the world I was born into, to slide into another where words were straightforward and honest, where there was clearly delineated good and evil, where I found girls who were strong and smart and creative and foolish enough to fight dragons, to run away from home to live in museums, to become child spies, to make new friends and build secret gardens. Perhaps it was easier for me to navigate that world than my home, where my parents were having heated, whispered arguments in the dining room turned bedroom, and my father was disappearing after those arguments for weeks at a time to live at his mother’s house in Pass Christian before coming back to us. Perhaps it was easier for me to sink into those worlds than to navigate a world that would not explain anything to me, where I could not delineate good and bad. My grandmother worked ten-hour-long shifts at the plant. My mother had a job as a maid at a hotel. My father still worked at the glass plant, and when he was living with us, he would often disappear on his motorcycle.”


Men We Reaped was a heartwrencher, an eyeopener. It was a very personal journey, Ward’s attempt to write away her sadness and her pain. ( )
  RealLifeReading | Jan 19, 2016 |
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“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

Young adolescents in our prime live a life of crime, though it ain't logical, we hobble through these trying times. Living blind: Lord, help me with my troubled soul. Why all my homies had to die before they got to grow? -from "Words 2 My Firstborn," Tupac Shakur

I stand on the stump of a child, whether myself or my little brother who died, and yell as far as I can, I cannot leave this place, for for me it is the dearest and the worst, it is life nearest to life which is life lost: it is my place where I must stand.... -from "Easter Morning," A.R. Ammons
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Whenever my mother drove us from coastal Mississippi to New Orleans to visit my father on the weekend, she would say, "Lock the doors."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 160819521X, Hardcover)

“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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:02 -0400)

A memoir that examines rural poverty and the lingering strains of racism in the South by the author of Salvage the bones.

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