Shayla Lawson’s powerful essays recount a global voyage to self-determination.
On this week’s Fully Booked podcast, Shayla Lawson discusses How To Live Free in a Dangerous World: A Decolonial Memoir (Tiny Reparations, Feb. 6), “a stunning essay collection about travel, mortality, and liberation” (starred review):
“When prize-winning poet Lawson, author of This Is Major, was 39, a doctor told them they were dying. The author had just been diagnosed with Ehlers–Danlos syndrome, which caused them chronic pain. In reflecting on their ability to cope with the disease, Lawson writes, ‘getting healed for me has been about truly letting go, whether that means recovering from convention or from a chronic illness.’ To that end, each essay in this collection traces the author’s path to letting go of something that held them back, as well as the role that place played in these transformational moments.…Packed with lyrical lines, genuine insight, and ebullient confessions, Lawson’s latest nonfiction book sparkles with vulnerability, sincerity, and poetry.…Lawson is a gifted chronicler not only of their own personal revolution, but also of the power structures that affect their place in the world. A stunning essay collection about travel, mortality, and liberation.”
In addition to the essay collections How To Live Free in a Dangerous World and This Is Major—a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in autobiography and a Lambda Literary Award—Lawson is the author of the poetry collections I’m Ready To See Frank Ocean and A Speed Education in Human Being. They’re an assistant professor of English at Amherst College, and their work has appeared in New York magazine, Salon, ESPN magazine, and Paper.
In our conversation, Lawson shares their approach to piecing together an essay collection; “listening for stories” in the world around them; and the realization that, coming out of the pandemic, many of their conversations were focusing on survival and what it means to move through the world in a particular body. We discuss the importance of telling individual stories as representative of a collective; how we can mean different things when we say “we”; Michel de Montaigne and Joan Didion; what it means to be a foreigner; and the stories nations tell about themselves. They contemplate how their experience as a professional architect impacts the way they structure their narratives/collections; and we talk about how being invited somewhere isn’t the same thing as being welcomed. We discuss a butoh performance they witnessed in Japan; the joy and privilege of maturing as an artist; and what it’s like to work with the Tiny Reparations publishing team. Then they read aloud from the end of How To Live Free in a Dangerous World.
Next, editors Laura Simeon, Mahnaz Dar, Eric Liebetrau, and Laurie Muchnick share their top picks in books for the week.
Bless the Blood: A Cancer Memoir by Walela Nehanda (Kokila)
Across So Many Seas by Ruth Behar (Nancy Paulsen Books)
Dear Black Girls: How To Be True to You by A’ja Wilson (Flatiron Books)
Greta & Valdin by Rebecca K. Reilly (Avid Reader Press)
ALSO MENTIONED ON THIS EPISODE:
Weathering: The Extraordinary Stress of Ordinary Life in an Unjust Society by Arline T. Geronimus
Kantikaby Elizabeth Graver
THANKS TO OUR SPONSORS:
Blue Green by Richard Wall
Change of Possession by JT Dwyer
The Imaginaerium Engine by C.G. Wayne
Lizzy Has Fantastic Feet by Antoinette, illus. by Ian Dale
Fully Booked is produced by Cabel Adkins Audio and Megan Labrise.