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Men We Reaped (2013)

by Jesmyn Ward

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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9224519,422 (4.26)130
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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Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
You know Men We Reaped has deeply impacted you when reading the grief Ward shares over her brother gives you the urge to reach out to your own estranged brothers. A profoundly saddening book, but it was a true honor learning about these men and their stories. Just like Ward, I will always be haunted by them for better or worse. ( )
  DominiqueDavis | Aug 9, 2022 |
audio nonfiction/memoir - growing up Black and poor in Mississippi and dealing with multiple, separate deaths of male relatives and friends (TW: sexual assault, suicide and suicidal ideation, drug overdose, gun violence and other traumas) with some revealing statistics at the end. ( )
  reader1009 | Mar 12, 2022 |
As an ally, I feel like it is my duty to listen to the stories of people of color; I can never truly appreciate the effects of the systemic biases against them. Works like this help us all understand what growing up poor and Black in Mississippi, the poorest state in the poorest region of our country, where one out of every twelve Black men is in prison, does to one's psyche. This is a book about the direct link between a system that has failed its citizens and the despair that failed system creates. ( )
  nbornstein | Mar 5, 2022 |
This book, along with Ta-Nehisi Coates' "Between the World and Me" should be required reading for all Americans. Ward holds nothing back in her descriptions of life as a Black family in Mississippi, heartbreaking descriptions, and her insights to systemic racism are keen. This is a book that will stay with me for quite a long time. I know this is my privilege showing when I say this: I could not read it in one sitting, for it was too raw. I needed a break. And that right there, for me, is a larger point the book makes--I could take a break from the harsh realities Ward writes about. She cannot. The men in her life cannot. I don't know what to do, other than hear and recognize these stories, and hope others read and are as changed as I am by her words. ( )
  ms_rowse | Jan 1, 2022 |
Author Jesmyn Ward lost five young men, including her brother, within five years. In an effort to deal with her unimaginable grief, she wrote a memoir about her own life growing up Black and poor in Mississippi, as well as brief biographies of each man and his tragic death.

As I read this, I periodically thought of that adage stating that to be a writer, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed” (I’m going to attribute this to Walter “Red” Smith, citing Quote Investigator). Ms. Ward’s pain and grief comes through in these pages almost viscerally.

Growing up poor is hard enough. But when you’re Black and poor, especially in the American South, especially in Mississippi, the cards are truly stacked against you. You can’t expect mercy from a court system that seems to believe your very existence is a crime. You can’t expect help from your White neighbors, who view you with suspicion. The few jobs in town inevitably go to White people. Layoffs affect the Black community first. Towns allocate funds to improve the White parts of town while the Black parts of town fall further and further into disrepair. This is the reality that Ms. Ward, her family, her friends, and countless others in similar situations live every day. And it takes its toll.

“One Fourth of July, [Rog] and his cousins twisted firecrackers together in a sulfurous bunch, put the firecrackers in mailboxes, and lit them. The mailboxes exploded. Someone called the police. When the police arrived, they told the kids that it was a federal offense to tamper with the mail, and they took the other two boys to a juvenile detention facility. This is how silly pranks by Black kids are handled in the South.”

The young men Ms. Ward writes about die in several different ways, but race and poverty play a role in all of them. A sense of hopelessness leads to suicide. Using drugs to beat back that same sense of hopelessness leads to an accidental overdose. Dangerous roads aren’t fixed because the town doesn’t seem to care about conditions in the Black part of town. It’s unrelenting.

But some people keep trying. Mothers keep doing their damnedest for their children. They swallow their pride, work the menial jobs, sign up for whatever assistance they can find, and keep their children fed. But keeping their children fed isn’t the same as having the opportunity to give their children more. Ms. Ward’s mother worked as a maid for a family for years to keep Jesmyn’s scholarship to a private school. But so many don’t even get that option. It’s a vicious, vicious cycle and the system is set up so that it’s only the rare, fortunate person who can break out of it.

“I knew the boys in my first novel, which I was writing at that time, weren’t as raw as they could be, weren’t real. I knew they were failing as characters because I wasn’t pushing them to assume the reality that my real-life boys, Demond among them, experienced every day. I loved them too much: as an author, I was a benevolent God. I protected them from death, from drug addiction, from needlessly harsh sentences in jail for doing stupid, juvenile things like stealing four-wheel ATVs. All of the young Black men in my life, in my community, had been prey to these things in real life, and yet in the lives I imagined for them, I avoided the truth. I couldn’t figure out how to love my characters less. How to look squarely at what was happening to the young Black people I knew in the South, and to write honestly about that. How to be an Old Testament God.”

The structure of the book is set up so that the reader moves forward through Ms. Ward’s own life and, in alternating chapters, backward through the deaths of her friends and brother. It all culminates with her brother’s death, obviously the one that hurt the most. In trying to deal with her own grief, she wishes she had words to soothe the sisters of the other young men.

“What I meant to say was this: You will always love him. He will always love you. Even though he is not here, he was here, and no one can change that. No one can take that away from you. If energy is neither created nor destroyed, and if your brother was here with his, his humor, his kindness, his hopes, doesn’t this mean that what he was still exists somewhere, even if it’s not here? Doesn’t it?”

I feel like I’m flailing around in this review, trying to make sense of my own thoughts, but I hope that I’m conveying that this book is powerful, important, and gut-wrenching. It’s not an easy read by any means. But if we as a country, as humans, are ever going to do better, we have to begin by walking in each other’s shoes. This is a good place to start. ( )
  JG_IntrovertedReader | Aug 24, 2021 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ward, Jesmynprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boothe, CheriseNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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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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