Men We Reaped: A Memoir

by Jesmyn Ward

Paperback, 2014




Bloomsbury USA (2014), Edition: Reprint, 272 pages


Biography & Autobiography. Sociology. African American Nonfiction. Nonfiction. HTML:Named one of the Best Books of the Century by New York Magazine Two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward (Salvage the Bones, Sing, Unburied, Sing) contends with the deaths of five young men dear to her, and the 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 TubmanIn 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..… (more)


(200 ratings; 4.2)

User reviews

LibraryThing member lauralkeet
What I did not understand then was that the same pressures were weighing on us all. My entire community suffered from a lack of trust: we didn’t trust society to provide the basics of a good education, safety, access to good jobs, fairness in the justice system. And even as we distrusted the
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society around us, the culture that cornered us and told us we were perpetually less, we distrusted each other. We did not trust our fathers to raise us, to provide for us. Because we trusted nothing, we endeavored to protect ourselves, boys becoming misogynistic and violent, girls turning duplicitous, all of us hopeless.

What is it like to be black in America? Let Jesmyn Ward tell you. This painful memoir by the author of the award-winning novel Salvage the Bones, takes us from her birth to her late 20s. The oldest of four children, Jesmyn’s parents were committed to raising their children in a two-parent household (something they had not benefited from themselves), but were ultimately unable to make it work. The family moved frequently, and relied heavily on family members for support during tough times. Jesmyn was luckier than most, with a benefactor who paid for her to attend a prestigious school, which paved the way for higher education that ultimately made her “successful” by typical public standards.

But most were (are) unable to escape the systems of oppression. Interspersed with chapters about Jesmyn’s childhood are portraits of young men who died far too young: 5 men in 4 years, including Jesmyn’s brother. The circumstances of each death vary, from accidents to drugs to violence, but in every case the man was enmeshed in struggles related to race and class that are difficult for those from different backgrounds to understand. Their education tapered off during high school, and even while in school they were often ignored or labeled troublemakers, and did not get the support necessary to learn and flourish. On leaving school, their employment prospects were limited, forcing some into more lucrative pursuits like dealing drugs. In some cases these men fathered children, and perpetuated a model of absent parenthood mirroring their own experience. And so the cycle continues.

Surely life isn’t really like this, for so many people? But yes, it is, and that’s what makes this book an important read. Such complex societal issues obviously can’t be solved just by reading books, but awareness can foster an environment that leads to change, through individual action taken locally and by voting people into office who are committed to making the United States a better place for all who live here.
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LibraryThing member kidzdoc
"From 2000 to 2004, five Black young men I grew up with died, all violently, in seemingly unrelated deaths...That's a brutal list, in its immediacy and its relentlessness, and it's a list that silences people. It silenced me for a long time."

Jesmyn Ward, author of the National Book Awrd winning
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novel [Salvage the Bones], was born in the Mississippi Gulf Coast town of DeLisle in 1977. Like many African Americans in that region her parents were poorly educated with only high school diplomas from poorly financed and largely segregated schools, and that combined with the lack of good jobs in the region for those without higher education, or for most blacks regardless of their level of education, condemned them to a series of low paying jobs that kept them in poverty and put a great strain on their marriage. Ward managed to escape this trap due to a lawyer that her mother worked for as a maid, who paid for her education at an all-white private school that was vastly better than the public school in DeLisle that she had been attending. She performed well there despite frequent racial harassment from her fellow students, and she was accepted to Stanford University, where she received her bachelor's degree, and the University of Michigan, where she earned a master's degree in fine arts. After years of struggling to find a good job that would take advantage of her education and writing skills she eventually found a publisher for her first novel, [Where the Line Bleeds], which was set in a Mississippi Gulf Coast town ravaged by Hurricane Katrina whose African American residents struggle to overcome poverty, racism and drug addiction. She was subsequently chosen as a writer in residence at the University of Mississippi and during that time she wrote [Salvage the Bones], which significantly elevated her career. She accepted a teaching position at the University of South Alabama, and she is now an associate professor of English at Tulane University in New Orleans.

In addition to overcoming poverty and racism, Ward also had to deal with alcoholism and depression, due in large part to her family's struggles in DeLisle, her inability to find a decent job, and especially the loss of the men in her life. Her father divorced her mother after she gave birth to their fourth child, and his lack of income and presence in their lives left her, her three siblings and her mother financially distressed and emotionally wounded. In 2000 her brother Joshua was killed, and subsequently four other young men in her community died, of different causes, over the next four years, which was devastating to her and her community.

In [Men We Reaped], Ward describes the often difficult lives of these five men and their sudden deaths, in an effort to eulogize them, to tell the story of herself, her family and those closest to her, and to help those of us who didn't grow up under those oppressive circumstances, including myself, understand why men like these made the choices they did, the devastating consequences that resulted from them, and how their failed lives adversely impacts their communities, and ultimately all of us.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
This is the back story behind her so well-deserved National Book Award winning "Salvage the Bones". Both books were cries of pain that need to be heard through the world. As in these definitions of what being poor means every day: "Both of us on the cusp of adulthood, and this is how my brother and
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I understood what it meant to be a woman: working, dour, full of worry. What it meant to be a man: resentful, angry, wanting life to be everything but what it was."

The reaped men are five friends and family members lost to Jesmyn Ward through specifically suicide and accidents but generally through the bleak hopeless grinding racism and poverty which infects Mississippi and all of this country.

Her escape cannot be a triumph when so many are left behind.

PLEASE read both of these books for eyes wide open.
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LibraryThing member pinkcrayon99
In Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward introduces us to Roger Eric Daniels III, Demond Cook, Charles Joseph Martin, Ronald Wayne Lizana, and Joshua Adam Dedeaux and just when we become acquainted with them we lose them one by one. As Ward tells the stories of these men, she is also telling her own. Ward
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makes the poverty, racism, and oppression of the rural south palpable.

Early settlers of DeLisle, MS called it Wolf Town because of the Wolf River that runs through it. This is where Jesmyn Ward grows up. Regardless, of the name change it always feels as if there is a predator in their midst. This predator is death. Ward’s own premature birth and early fight for survival seemed to be a precursor for the rest of her life.

Drugs, homicide, suicide, and car accidents along with a constant fight against racism and poverty took the lives of Joshua, Roger, Demond, Ronald, and Cj. These men were not perfect and Ward did not try to hide their demons. She wrote their stories in such a way that a piece of each one of them fell into your heart.

Ward did not allow the reader to recover emotionally from one story to the next because she was telling her own story simultaneously. Her mother was broken from her father’s constant infidelity and their later divorce. Ward and her siblings allowed their parent’s brokenness to seep into their own lives. This family was in constant emotional and sometime physical battles.

I’m sure I related to this book because I too grew up in rural Mississippi like Ward. While reading this book, tears were ever present. Ward wrote these tragedies with a remarkable gentleness. Jesmyn Ward is a brave woman. Roger Eric Daniels III, Demond Cook, Charles Joseph Martin, Ronald Wayne Lizana, and Joshua Adam Dedeaux’s names and lives will be forever memorialized because of the courage of one woman to write.
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LibraryThing member asxz
Devastating grief memoir. Ms Ward is unflinching in detailing the impact her brother's death had on her and her family. It's a brave and raw telling of a tragic and deeply personal story.

If I have a quibble it's that I wasn't always 100% convinced by the broadening of the story. Of course there are
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socio-economic links between the five men who died and whose stories are told her. The suffocating poverty and racism is undeniable, but I wasn't always comfortable with the juxtaposition of deaths in road accidents with gang violence, drug overdose and suicidal depression. It's a fine work, nevertheless.
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LibraryThing member jwrudn
A poignant memoir about growing up poor and black in the South and the damaging effects of subtle and offert racism. A wonderful book, beautifully written.
LibraryThing member creynolds
Jesmyn Ward grew up in Mississippi, poor and black, and this story describes that world. It also chronicles the tragic deaths of four young black men. I really liked how she alternated chapters of her life growing up in chronological order and chapters of the young men and how they died in reverse
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order. Very sad. The most painful death, which colored each subsequent one, was her brother Joshua. This was riveting, especially in the beginning. Towards the end I felt like there were details we weren't privy to. My one significant quibble with the book is that it is supposed to show how their poverty stricken circumstances created these tragedies, but Joshua died in a random accident when a drunk driver crashed into his car. However, her grief at losing her brother is very real and has obviously, and understandably, overwhelmed her. Then others died in rapid order, and they were victims of their circumstances.
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LibraryThing member lilysreads
I don't even know how to begin when it comes to this book. I have so many emotions going through my head and my heart right now, it's hard to capture them and share them with you. This memoir isn't just about Jesmyn Ward's losses or her life, it's also about the history of loss and lives of
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thousands of black men and women throughout America. Not only that, but this memoir is also proof that a sort of good, or hope can be fashioned from these losses and live and made to live on forever in the hearts of those of us who are lucky enough to stumble upon and read them.

I recieved this book through Goodread's First Reads.
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LibraryThing member msf59
Ward grew up in rural Mississippi, during the late 70s and 80s. She lived mostly at the poverty line, with just her mother supporting the family. In just a few scant years, she lost five men in her life, to drugs, accidents and suicide. This beautifully written memoir, is her exploration of those
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young men's, pitifully short lives and her own struggles growing up and dealing with racism. She also examines her own alcohol abuse and bouts of depression. This book will break your heart and more than once but it is a must read.
Ward also writes fiction and I loved her last novel, [Salvage the Bones].
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LibraryThing member Sullywriter
An exquisitely written memoir, beautiful and heartbreaking.
LibraryThing member klburnside
Men We Reaped is a memoir recounting the lives and deaths of several of the author's friends and relatives. Those who died were all young southern black men who died well before their time. The book is both a very personal account and a commentary on the societal problems that caused so many of the
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author's friends to die so young.

I finished this book a few weeks ago, so it is hard to remember exactly what I thought. The book had such great potential, but I felt it fell a little short. While the plight of the individuals in the book is very real and heartbreaking, I found the organization of the book made it hard to relate to the characters.
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LibraryThing member mjlivi
A gut wrenching memoir of growing up in Mississippi.
LibraryThing member Beamis12
Ward and her family lived for generations in De Lisle. Mississippi. When she was growing up, after having assumed responsibility for her younger siblings, she only wanted to escape. She manages this when she attend college, but her brother was not so lucky. Her hometown. with its lack of
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educational opportunities, subsequent poverty would cost many their lives. From 2000-2004, she would find herself reeling from 5 deaths, the first her brother from a drunk driver, and then friends would follow. The pain and guilt she feels from having escaped this circle of devastation is something her writing poignantly displays. Interesting read from an author I admire. Love the urban grittiness in her book [book:Salvage the Bones|10846336]and hope she is in the process writing another fiction book.
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LibraryThing member Bodagirl
Not your average memoir. At times impersonal and observational, at others intensely emotional. The structure is original with two different narratives alternating chapters and then catching up to each other in the penultimate chapter about her brother's death.
LibraryThing member detailmuse
In California, … my mother could tend to her husband and her child only, free of family and the South.

But her parents returned to the South, and in this memoir, Ward paints the social and literal landscape of late-20th-century small-town Mississippi, tells of her growing-up years in poverty
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there, and eulogizes five young men of color -- four friends plus her only brother -- who died there between 2000 and 2004.

As in the quote above, Ward knew so many reasons to want to be away from Mississippi, and yet after years of education and work elsewhere, her childhood hometown is where she lives and teaches now. I’ve liked two now by Ward, and have designated her a “favorite” author.
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LibraryThing member bell7
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member nmele
This is a heartbreaking memoir structured around the deaths of young African-American men in rural Louisiana and Mississippi. It is heartbreaking, the effects of these deaths are long-lasting, and Ms. Ward writes forcefully and beautifully. Read it!
LibraryThing member Narshkite
This year I have read a great deal about what it means to be Black in a nation designed to advance the interests of White people. This was not by design. Certainly it is an area of interest for me, personal and professional, and the brutal costs of endemic racism have been thrown into stark relief
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over the past 5 years. The primary reason though for this immersion is that there have been a whole lot of great books published in the past few years whose authors have made themselves vulnerable, who have endured the pain of remembering unimaginable trauma, to tell their story and the stories of others in the Black community that get heard too infrequently by people outside that community. I am grateful. I owe a debt to these writers, to Kiese Laymon, to Anita Heiss (who wrote about this from an indigenous Australian perspective, which widened my lens), Robin DiAngelo, Angie Thomas, Eric Michael Dyson, Candice Carty-Williams, and now Jesmyn Ward.

Ward tells her story through tales of 4 young Black men she grew up with in Mississippi, all of whom died very young. They died in different ways, but all in ways that connect back to the devaluation of Black life, and the limitations placed on the dreams and goals available to the dead men in their lifetimes. The story of these men is also the story of the women who loved them, who raised them, who bore their children. Its is a story about the pain and exhaustion, physical and emotional, of those women and children left to just put down their heads and get things done. Its a story I have not heard well told, and it helped me to understand some things I had not understood before about the definition of fatherhood and the expectations placed on girls and boys nearly from birth in many communities. We need to understand the roots of a problem to make changes. The roots are exposed here, and once again the roots are strangled by systemic racism, by the ways in which we see Whiteness as the default "normal" and view success for Black people by their ability to act white, seem white. be white also-rans. Its appalling that this is still true. White folks need to get off our asses to start to change that. Ward is a beautiful writer, and her tributes do honor to the young men lost, but this book really comes together in the last chapter where she goes to the social science. I wish there had been more of that. I wanted the personal stories, but I wanted to understand them in a broader context. We need to be having a conversation about the epidemiology of racism and other types of oppression and the harm it causes. This book, the stories and the social science are a great start.
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LibraryThing member a-shelf-apart
Beautifully written and deeply sad.
LibraryThing member nancyjean19
I've thought about this book every day since a read it a few weeks ago. I love her writing style so much, and her memoir is so honest and personal, without much of the sociological speculating that I expected, but in the end was glad to find little of. The way the story was organized was a little
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bit confusing, which was why I took off a star, but the chapters about the men she knew who died were perfect little vignettes of young lives lost.
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LibraryThing member brionna20x
Men We Reaped is a profusely intimate meditation on the rural Southern poverty experienced by Black folks in the Gulf told through Jesmyn Ward’s personal lens. Ward pours out her soul, sharing her experiences and telling the stories of her community with compassion and perspective. Ward’s style
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shines in this format as her words are crafted in such a way that reveals the depth of reflection required to make these people, her people, live and breathe in each sentence. I appreciate how she also remains self aware, acknowledging her limitations, admitting to flaws and conjecture as it fits. The result is a beautiful piece of work that will move you to tears, torn between the love and sorrow and pain and joy marking what it means to be Black and fully human in a country that disdains you for being such.
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LibraryThing member nbornstein
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member ms_rowse
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
During a 5-year period beginning in 2000, Jesmyn Ward lost her brother and four close friends from DeLisle, Mississippi. Ward weaves the story of these five men with the story of her childhood and young adulthood. She tells her life story chronologically, and the men’s stories in reverse
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chronological order. The two threads finally intersect with the tragic death of Ward’s only full brother in 2000. Ward’s brother and another of the young men died in car accidents, another young man died of a drug overdose, a fourth took his own life, and the last was murdered. For Ward, these tragic losses are indicative of the problems of poverty and racism that affect the lives of so many African Americans in the South. It’s a difficult book to read, and I could only manage a chapter or two at a time. It must have been infinitely more difficult to live.
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LibraryThing member SilversReviews
MEN WE REAPED is very well written and in a style that feels as if the author is right there with you having a conversation. The prose is beautiful, and the descriptions are vivid and make the scenes come alive.

The author revealed her life very eloquently even though her life growing up wasn't very
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eloquent. Jesymn had to suffer through a premature birth, a father who wasn't true to her mother, a dog mauling, poverty, drugs, drinking, and deaths of loved ones.

The book was enlightening as well as heartbreaking to hear the narration of her life and her family's struggles.

I normally do not read memoirs, but I am glad I read this book. It is an eye opener. Thanks for writing this book, Ms. Ward.

This book was given to me free of charge and without compensation by the publisher in return for an honest review.
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272 p.; 8.2 inches


1608197654 / 9781608197651

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Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward (Hardcover)
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