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Extended Audio Sample Men We Reaped, by Jesmyn Ward Click for printable size audiobook cover
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“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 Tubman

In 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.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “In Men We Reaped, Jesmyn unburies her dead, that they may live again. And through this emotional excavation, she forces us to see the problems of place and race that led these men to their early graves. Full of beauty, love, and dignity, Men We Reaped is a haunting and essential read.”

    Natasha Trethewey, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

  • “[An] unvarnished and penetrating view into the infernal machinery of race hatred, pervasive mistrust, self-loathing, drugs, guns, and life’s bloody accidents.”


  • “Ward is a vivid, urgent writer, and here she is bearing witness to poverty and racism, the inequality that plagues her community and so many others like it…Her story shines a light on this darkness, reminding us we will never be able to lift it if we do not at least look.”


  • “A lovely book about stuff so painful that Ward must have written it in a kind of fever…The final chapters are so moving you have to avert your eyes, both for the trauma and the tenderness.”

    Entertainment Weekly

  • “Eloquent...Men We Reaped reaffirms Ms. Ward’s substantial talent.”

    New York Times

  • “[Ward] chronicles our American story in language that is raw, beautiful, and dangerous…[Her] singular voice and her full embrace of her anger and sorrow set this work apart from those that have trodden similar ground…With loving and vivid recollection, she returns flesh to the bones of statistics and slows her ghosts to live again…[It’s a] complicated and courageous testimony.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “Heart-wrenching…filled [with] intimate and familial moments, each described with the passion and precision of the polished novelist Ward has become…Ward is one of those rare writers who’s traveled across America’s deepening class rift with her sense of truth intact. What she gives back to her community is the hurtful honesty of the best literary art.”

    Los Angeles Times

  • “An important, and perhaps even essential, book.”

    San Francisco Chronicle

  • “A memoir about loss in rural Mississippi that burns with brilliance.”

    Harper’s Bazaar

  • “A memoir that is as searing as her fiction, as poignant and as timely…in a country that is supposed to be post racial but still seems hell-bent on the epidemic destruction of young black men.”


  • “Ward’s candid account is full of sadness and hope that takes readers out of their comfort zone and proves that education and hard work are the way up for the young and downtrodden.”

    Library Journal

  • “An assured yet scarifying memoir by young, supremely gifted novelist Ward…A modern rejoinder to Black Like Me, Beloved, and other stories of struggle and redemption—beautifully written, if sometimes too sad to bear.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2013 in Nonfiction
  • A 2013 Christian Science Monitor Book of the Year for Best Nonfiction
  • One of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2013 for Nonfiction
  • A BookPage Best Book of 2013
  • A 2014 Indies Choice Award Honoree for Adult Nonfiction
  • A Time Magazine Top 10 Book of 2013 in Nonfiction
  • A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2013
  • An Oregonian Top 10 Book of 2013
  • A New York Magazine Top 10 Books of 2013
  • A London Times Literary Supplement Best Book of 2013
  • A Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2013
  • A Kansas City Star Top 100 Book of 2013
  • A Christian Science Monitor Best Book of 2013
  • A 2013 Vogue Best Book of the Year
  • A Cosmopolitan Best Book of 2013
  • A Chicago Tribune Best Book of 2013
  • A New Statesman Best Book of 2013
  • A 2013 New York Times Book Review Notable Book
  • A 2013 Salon Magazine Best Book
  • A 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
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About the Author
Author Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn Ward won a National Book Award for her critically acclaimed novel Salvage the Bones, which also won an Alex Award in 2012. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of South Alabama. Previously, she was the John and Renée Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi; she also had a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University from 2008–2010. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including A Public Space and BOMB magazine.