2014 fiction winner
Kiese Laymon | Long Division
About the author
Kiese Laymon was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. He graduated from Oberlin College and earned an MFA from Indiana University. Laymon is a contributing editor at Gawker.com and has written for numerous publications, including Esquire and ESPN.com. He is an associate professor of English and creative writing at Vassar College, and will be the University of Mississippi John Grisham Writer in Residence for 2015-2016. Agate Bolden published his debut novel Long Division in June 2013 and his collection of essays, How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, in August 2013.
About the book
In 2013, Citoyen “City” Coldson is competing in the nationally televised “Can You Use This Word in a Sentence” contest finals, where he is one of only two black male contestants, along with his arch-nemesis LaVander Peeler. After being assigned the word “niggardly,” City has an onstage meltdown and storms off. Video of his outburst almost instantly goes viral.
City is hustled out of town to go stay with his beloved grandmother in Melahatchie, Mississippi, where a girl named Baize Shepard has recently disappeared. While there, City is distracted by a strange novel written by an unknown author, titled “Long Division,” that he had been given right before the contest. He’s unsettled to discover that the narrator—a boy living in Melahatchie in 1985—is also named City Coldson. This second City, along with his friend Shalaya Crump, discovers a hole through time that leads him to a meeting with…Baize Shephard. Together, City, Shalaya, and Baize must face down the horrors of Mississippi’s violent past and are ultimately confronted with an unimaginable choice.
Critics / Reviews
“Funny, astute and searching.... The author's satirical instincts are excellent. He is also intimately attuned to the confusion of young black Americans who live under the shadow of a history that they only gropingly understand and must try to fill in for themselves.” — Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
“Don't miss Kiese Laymon's Long Division. One Mississippi town with two engaging stories in two very different decades. The sharp humor and deep humanity make this debut novel unforgettable.” — Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNBC
“A novel within a novel—hilarious, moving and occasionally dizzying.... Laymon cleverly interweaves his narrative threads and connects characters in surprising and seemingly impossible ways. Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice, confusion and love rooted in an emphatically post-Katrina world.” — Kirkus Reviews, named Long Division a best novel for summer reading
“A little fantasy, a little mystery and a lot hilarious.” — Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“[One of] our best books of the year so far…Laymon’s debut novel is bursting with colloquial language from three generations of Mississippian African Americans, mixed with gut-piercing truths about a long racial divide that persists to this day.”
— Diane Colson, School Library Journal, named Long Division one of the best books of the year
“In a multilayered, allusion-packed, time-traveling plot set in Mississippi, Long Division takes us, nesting-doll style, from 2013 to 1985, 1964, and back, engaging complex questions of race, violence, gender, sexuality, and or relationship to history.” — Lucy McKeon, Boston Review
“An ambitious mix of contemporary southern gothic with Murakamiesque magical realism....elegantly showcases Laymon’s command of voice and storytelling skill in a tale that is at once dreamlike and concrete, personal and political.”
— Greg Baldino, Booklist
“Smart and funny and sharp...I loved it.” — Jesmyn Ward, author of Salvage the Bones, 2011 National Book Award winner
“His writing is like rubbing away at a greasy mirror ‘til you see yourself clean through.” — Anupa Mistry, Hazlitt