Title: Men We Reaped
Author: Jesmyn Ward
First published September 17, 2013
256 pages, Hardcover
ISBN: 9781608195213 (ISBN10: 160819521X)
In Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward shares her heart-wrenching story of losing five men in her life in just five years. Each loss was devastating, and they all happened because of poverty, racism, and addiction.
Jesmyn grew up in a small town in Mississippi, where she witnessed firsthand the struggles that black men face. Her powerful writing sheds light on the pressures that come with being a black man in America, and the impact it has on their families and loved ones.
Through her own experiences, Jesmyn asks the difficult questions about why these tragedies happen and how we can prevent them from happening again. With honesty and vulnerability, Jesmyn tells the stories of her community and her own, giving voice to those who are often silenced.
Men We Reaped is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the harsh realities of life in America and the impact it has on those who live it.
About the Author
Jesmyn Ward has written several books, including Where the Line Bleeds, Salvage the Bones, and Men We Reaped. She has been a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and a Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi.
Currently, she is an associate professor of Creative Writing at Tulane University. Her writing has been featured in publications such as BOMB, A Public Space, and The Oxford American.
Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped is a haunting memoir that explores the lives and untimely deaths of five young black men who were dear to the author. Published in September 2013, the book is a compelling examination of the intersecting issues of poverty, racism, and violence that plague many rural, working-class communities in the American South.
Ward, a writer and professor, has been lauded for her poetic prose and her unflinching exploration of difficult themes. The book opens with the death of Ward’s brother, Joshua, in 2000.
Joshua was hit by a drunk driver on a rural road in Mississippi, a tragedy that Ward links to the larger societal forces that devalue the lives of black men in the United States. As Ward reflects on Joshua’s life and death, she also traces the paths of four other young men from her hometown of DeLisle, Mississippi, who died in quick succession over the course of four years: Demond, Roger, C.J., and Ronald.
Through a series of interconnected essays, Ward illuminates the complex web of circumstances that contributed to their deaths, from institutionalized poverty and lack of access to health care and education, to drug and alcohol addiction, to the brutal cycle of incarceration and criminalization that ensnares so many young black men. In Men We Reaped, Ward masterfully weaves together personal recollections, historical context, and social commentary to create a powerful narrative that resonates far beyond the bounds of her own experience.
She is unafraid to confront difficult questions and to challenge her own assumptions about the causes and consequences of tragedy. At the same time, she celebrates the strength, resilience, and beauty of the communities that she calls home, and offers a glimpse into the vibrant and complex world of black Southern culture.
Through her vivid descriptions and evocative language, Ward brings these lost boys back to life, allowing us to see them as fully human and deserving of both grief and hope. Ward’s writing is both lyrical and forthright, combining vivid sensory details with sharp social critique.
She is a gifted storyteller who crafts compelling characters and settings that feel both familiar and fresh. At times, the non-linear structure of the book can be disorienting, but Ward’s themes are so compelling that the disjointedness serves as an effective metaphor for the chaos and confusion that are a daily reality for so many marginalized communities.
Men We Reaped is an important and timely book that speaks to some of the most pressing issues of our time. Ward’s memoir stands out as a rare and necessary work of literature that not only captures the struggles and joys of a particular community, but also offers a visionary perspective on the social and political forces that shape our lives.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Southern culture, black and/or rural experiences, and contemporary debates around race, class, and justice.
Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars.