Humanities Reads

Faculty teaching courses in the humanities, or courses with a central humanities-related component, are invited to consider adopting this year's common humanities text as part of their assigned reading and discussion material.

2016-2017 Selection

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon

This year's common book for the Humanities Reads series is Kiese Laymon’s creative nonfiction essay collection, How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America (2013).

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, takes on issues of race, class and gender through evocative accounts of family, violence, celebrity, music and writing. Kiese Laymon's own experience of being young and black in America is the center of this personal narrative and has been published to critical acclaim. Essays from this collection were selected for inclusion in the Best American series, the Best of Net award, and the Atlantic's Best Essays of 2013.

“Like the best of Hurston, Ellison or Bambara, Laymon craft flows on frequencies that both honor and extend the traditions those writers established.” — William Henry Lewis, author of I Got Somebody in Staunton

“Master wordsmith Kiese Laymon gripped hearts, shook minds and earned fans by the hundreds of thousands with a brutally introspective personal essay published on Gawker called How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. After going viral, it became the titular piece of his 2013 book of essays, which was released just months after Laymon’s debut novel, Long Division.”—Ebony Magazine, Power 100 Issue

"Laymon’s essays, though slim, pack myriad emotions and examinations of emotional death. The writing is strong throughout; he seldom wastes an explanation or metaphor. Though the blues impulse is present, he raps familiar, like an older brother. His pieces tend to reach a gospel crescendo, like a preacher." -The Rumpus

“After an editor asked him to tone down his racial politics, the first-time author walked away from his book deal, moved to a smaller press, and eventually published two books to critical acclaim.  He hopes his story helps make the case for why publishers should welcome different voices to the table.” —Code Switch, NPR

On Wednesday, October 26th 2016, Kiese Laymon will be on campus at Drake University to read and speak as part of the Susan Glaspell Writers and Critics Series. Mark your calendars for what promises to be a rich and engaging evening.

Kiese Laymon is a black southern writer, born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. Laymon attended Millsaps College and Jackson State University before graduating from Oberlin College. He earned an MFA in Fiction from Indiana University and is currently an Associate Professor of English at Vassar College and the Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi for 2015-2016.  Laymon is also the author of the novel, Long Division, which won the 2014 Saroyan International Writing Award and was named one of the Best of 2013 by Buzzfeed, The Believer, Salon, Guernica, Contemporary Literature, Mosaic Magazine, Library Journal, Chicago Tribune and the Crunk Feminist, and has written essays, stories and reviews for numerous publications including Esquire, ESPN the Magazine, Colorlines, NPR, The Los Angeles Times, PEN Journal, Oxford American, The Best American Series, and Guernica. He is a currently a columnist at The Guardian.

The Humanities Center has purchased numerous copies of the How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America for use in classrooms and discussion groups. Faculty interested in making use of these books during Fall 2016 or Spring 2017 should email

Past Humanities Reads books have included:

  • Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams
  • Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks
  • George Saunders's In Persuasion Nation
  • Phoebe Gloeckner's Diary of a Teenage Girl
  • J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace.


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Deborah Kent, associate professor of mathematics, recently was honored for exceptional mathematics writing.