2021 Black Arts Month Keynote Speaker – Kiese Laymon

Kiese Laymon

Author of the award-winning memoir Heavy, the groundbreaking essay collection How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, and the genre-defying novel Long Division.

On Friday, February 12th we welcomed our Black Arts Month Keynote Speaker Kiese Laymon. Laymon is a Black southern writer from Jackson, Mississippi. In his observant, often hilarious work, Laymon does battle with the personal and the political: race and family, body and shame, poverty and place. His savage humor and clear-eyed perceptiveness have earned him comparisons to Ta-Nehisi Coates, Alice Walker, and Mark Twain. He is the author of the award-winning memoir Heavy, the groundbreaking essay collection How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, and the genre-defying novel Long Division

In his fearless and provocative bestselling memoir, Heavy: An American Memoir, Laymon unpacks what a lifetime of secrets and lies does to a Black body, a Black family, and a nation hunkered on the edge of moral collapse. Heavy won the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction and was named one of the 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years by The New York Times.  To learn more about Kiese, listen to a 30-minute conversation between him and Darnell Moore (Black Arts Month Keynote 2019) on his new podcast Being Seen

Black Arts Month at Andover:

Founded by author, educator, and historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926, Negro History Week predates what is now commonly known as Black History Month. Woodson’s conceptualization of the week stands as a blueprint for the burgeoning Black Lives Matter week curriculum which has taken root in schools across the country.  

In Jarvis Givens’ “There Would Be No Lynching if It Did Not Start in the Schoolroom”: Carter G. Woodson and the Occasion of the Negro History Week 1926-1950″, he honors Woodson’s vision by naming that “It became a medium to align curricular content with African Americans’ political desires and their critiques of the American school. Furthermore, it cultivated a learning aesthetic that centered on Black humanities, carving out formalized space in schools for Black cultural expression and intellectual ideas about the world. This was an enterprise in reimagining the very ecological context of, and for, Black learning. At the center of this pedagogical experience was more than spoken and written lessons about history. It was fundamentally concerned with Black embodiment, meaning the existential experience of African American learners.”  

At Andover, we celebrate Black Arts Month, originally founded as Black Arts Weekend by William Thomas, former instructor, chair in music, and director of performance who passed away in 2013. In his legacy and that of Dr. Woodson, AfLatAm has planned a series of events both in affinity and for the wider community. They kicked off the month with an invitation to Black/Latinx/Indigenous students, staff and faculty to help curate a virtual art space and have planned other events to center Black joy and healing. These events are not meant to be standalone but to be in dialogue with other speakers from this year and any efforts to combat anti-Blackness and advance anti-racism across the globe and at Andover.  

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