The William Benton Museum of Art hosted author Kiese Laymon, who led a discussion on his work and personal views on issues of sexual violence in the United States Tuesday night.
Laymon is a professor of English and African-American studies at the University of Mississippi.
To begin, Laymon had a rough childhood. He struggled with sexual abuse from a close woman in his life for a long time, and got kicked out of school. He entered a very depressed state and gained 60 pounds in a year, he ate instead of talked to people. Eventually, Laymon went to not eating, and found control in it.
“No one ever asked if I was okay,” Laymon said, “but everyone complimented me. The loneliness associated with food made me want to control my body.”
A main discussion point was his commitment to fighting against civil injustice and sexual violence. As a survivor of sexual violence and depression himself, Laymon works to spread awareness of these issues.
Laymon recently finished his new book titled “Heavy,” which talks about sexual violence and racial terror. Marketed as a memoir, the novel includes memories of his mother’s abusive relationships, and his own experiences of violence.
The novel was inspired by an essay about Bill Cosby, which talks about a 17-year-old black man who went to a party and only pretended to be drunk, and he has his first real conversation about sexual violence.
The main point of the essay was that the U.S. has a violence problem and regardless of what relation you have to sexual violence, you are a citizen of this violent country.
In this way we are all connected to Bill Cosby, said Laymon. Instead of making him the face of sexual violence and blame, we need to recognize what we have done to contribute to this issue and try to spread that awareness.
The bar is so low for men and boys, regardless of race, and the world teaches them the wrong idea of love. Laymon states, “Love is not abuse or making someone feel like they’re dying.”
He also talked about how young people make us understand power and sexual assault in different ways.
Additionally, we are in the midst of a different kind of revolution because of the internet, which provides an instant audience. The issue with this is that the internet is always under surveillance.
Laymon recieved a publishing deal when he was younger, but was told he would have to get rid of the racial politics from his book. He refused to and instead put it on the internet and get an audience. If not for the internet, he said he probably would not be where he is today.
Another important point was that hyper-masculinity manifests itself in so many different ways. For example, people who identify as men often use hyper masculinity as a shield.
Laymon said it is important to understand that even though people come from different places and cultures, we all struggle with the same issues. To counteract this, it is important to have conversations about love.
In focusing on women’s studies, Laymon has learned so much. Black feminism taught him that if you love someone you have to engage in it. James Baldwin helped him understand that it is hard to love something without revisiting it; reading critically means rereading. Laymon states, “You have limited time in this world, you have to love people that the world tells you not to love.”
It was clear people from the audience were deeply touched by Laymon’s talk. UConn student Caroline Castonguay said, “I thought that I gave a really interesting perspective on racial violence. His obligation to represent both sides was well versed.”
She continued, “It was easy to see he had done his research, was very good at articulating it and was very well-spoken. He spoke in a way all different people in the audience could understand.”
Fatma Vogli, another UConn student, said, “Laymon broadened my horizons to abuse and woman’s empowerment. Personally, I haven’t thought deeply about masculinity, and it made me want to do more research and realize how this sort of issue isn’t always talked about and it should be.”
Cynthia Reinert is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org