In a convocation address at Lawrence University, Kiese Laymon (Heavy: An American Memoir, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America) told the virtual audience, “I think the honest answer to the question of how long did it take you to write Heavy is, I’m going to have to let you know when I’m done. The book is published but the book is not done.” Laymon, who recently purchased the rights to two of his previously published works, has reclaimed his work for the sake of revision and reissue.
Laymon discussed the art and craft of revision with acclaimed novelist Peter Ho Davies (A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself, The Welsh Girl), the author of the newest volume in the Art of series, The Art of Revision: The Last Word (out November 2, 2021). Laymon’s revised and reissued novel Long Division (out June 1, 2021) is available in paperback and hardcover.
By Kiese Laymon
Published by Scribner
From Kiese Laymon, author of the critically acclaimed memoir Heavy, comes a “funny, astute, searching” (Wall Street Journal) debut novel about Black teenagers that is a satirical exploration of celebrity, authorship, violence, religion, and coming of age in post-Katrina Mississippi.
Written in a voice that’s alternately humorous, lacerating, and wise, Long Division features two interwoven stories. In the first, it’s 2013: after an on-stage meltdown during a nationally televised quiz contest, fourteen-year-old Citoyen “City” Coldson becomes an overnight YouTube celebrity. The next day, he’s sent to stay with his grandmother in the small coastal community of Melahatchie, where a young girl named Baize Shephard has recently disappeared.
Before leaving, City is given a strange book without an author called Long Division. He learns that one of the book’s main characters is also named City Coldson—but Long Division is set in 1985. This 1985-version of City, along with his friend and love interest, Shalaya Crump, discovers a way to travel into the future, and steals a laptop and cellphone from an orphaned teenage rapper called . . . Baize Shephard. They ultimately take these items with them all the way back to 1964, to help another time-traveler they meet to protect his family from the Ku Klux Klan.
City’s two stories ultimately converge in the work shed behind his grandmother’s house, where he discovers the key to Baize’s disappearance. Brilliantly “skewering the disingenuous masquerade of institutional racism” (Publishers Weekly), this dreamlike “smart, funny, and sharp” (Jesmyn Ward), novel shows the work that young Black Americans must do, while living under the shadow of a history “that they only gropingly understand and must try to fill in for themselves” (Wall Street Journal).
Also available in hardcover.
The Art of Revision
By Peter Ho Davies
Published by Graywolf Press
The fifteenth volume in the Art of series takes an expansive view of revision—on the page and in life
In The Art of Revision: The Last Word, Peter Ho Davies takes up an often discussed yet frequently misunderstood subject. He begins by addressing the invisibility of revision—even though it’s an essential part of the writing process, readers typically only see a final draft, leaving the practice shrouded in mystery. To combat this, Davies pulls examples from his novels The Welsh Girl and The Fortunes, as well as from the work of other writers, including Flannery O’Connor, Carmen Machado, and Raymond Carver, shedding light on this slippery subject.
Davies also looks beyond literature to work that has been adapted or rewritten, such as books made into films, stories rewritten by another author, and the practice of retconning in comics and film. In an affecting frame story, Davies recounts the story of a violent encounter in his youth, which he then retells over the years, culminating in a final telling at the funeral of his father. In this way, the book arrives at an exhilarating mode of thinking about revision—that it is the writer who must change, as well as the writing. The result is a book that is as useful as it is moving, one that asks writers to reflect upon themselves and their writing..