On this episode of “Literary Arts: The Archive Project,” we feature a conversation between Kiese Laymon and Imbolo Mbue on storytelling, environmental racism, and activism, recorded at the 2023 AWP Conference in Seattle, Washington.
Set in a fictional African village being polluted by an oil company, Imbolo Mbue’s latest novel, “How Beautiful We Were,” confronts environmental devastation, corporate colonialism and activism. Kiese Laymon, author of the memoir “Heavy,” has multigenerational roots in Mississippi have led him to consider climate justice and the ways that extractive agriculture, corporate interests, and the legacy of slavery impact communities of color in the US.
Kiese Laymon is a Black southern writer from Jackson, Mississippi. Laymon is the Libby Shearn Moody Professor of English and Creative Writing at Rice University. Laymon is the author of “Long Division,” which won the 2022 NAACP Image Award for fiction, and the essay collection, “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America,” named a notable book of 2021 by the New York Times critics. Laymon’s bestselling memoir, “Heavy: An American Memoir,” won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, the Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose, the Barnes and Noble Discovery Award, the Austen Riggs Erikson Prize for Excellence in Mental Health Media, and was named one of the 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years by The New York Times. The audiobook, read by the author, was named the Audible 2018 Audiobook of the Year. Laymon is the recipient of 2020-2021 Radcliffe Fellowship at Harvard. Laymon is at work on the books, “Good God,” and “City Summer, Country Summer,” and a number of other film and television projects. He is the founder of “The Catherine Coleman Literary Arts and Justice Initiative,” a program based out of the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University, aimed at aiding young people in Jackson get more comfortable reading, writing, revising and sharing on their on their own terms, in their own communities. Kiese Laymon was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2022.
Imbolo Mbue is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Behold the Dreamers,” which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and was an Oprah’s Book Club selection. The novel has been adapted into an opera and a stage play, and optioned for a miniseries. Her second novel, “How Beautiful We Were,” about a fictional African village’s fight against an against American oil company, was named by the New York Times as “One of the 10 Best Books” of 2021. Her works have been translated into eighteen languages and published in dozens of countries. A native of Limbe, Cameroon, and a graduate of Rutgers and Columbia Universities, Mbue lives in New York.