Everything You Need to Know About What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker, Explained

Illustration for article titled Everything You Need to Know About What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker, Explained
Illustration: Mark Scheibmayr

So according to this listing on Amazon, your book is set to be released on March 26—which is a week from today!

Crazy right?

Are you excited yet?

“Excited” is a word that exists. Unfortunately, it is not a word I’d use to encapsulate my feelings about this. Anxious, sweaty, and scared shitless are much more apt. Terrified works too if you’re a socialist. Maybe excited will get here eventually, but it’s taking its time. Excited is taking the scenic route. Excited is taking a nap at a rest stop right now.



Well, there’s just a collection of converging anxieties about this entire process. Most notably, I (obviously) want the book to be successful—for people to buy and enjoy and sit with and feel and BUY it. (Did I say BUY? Just making sure I said BUY.) And then there’s the fact that it’s a very personal and transparent and vulnerable book, which means that people will know these personal and transparent and vulnerable and often unflattering things about me. So there’s that.

Also, the lead up to this process has required me to do some of my own marketing—cold tweeting and texting and emailing people to ask them for favors. And that makes me want to crawl inside of a shoebox.

Ah, I see. So what about the lead up to the book? Are you getting good reviews and press? Any great blurbs?

So far, yes.

Just yesterday, Time magazine ran an excerpt. The piece (“How Do I Convince My Little Black Girl That She Can Be Whatever She Wants to Be in America?”) is adapted from the book’s last chapter (“Zoe”) and is on the paradox of teaching my daughter she can do/be anything she wants—while in the same America that killed my mom.

Oh wow.

Yeah, it’s pretty intense. Adding to the “Oh wow”-ness is the fact that the excerpt includes a reference to Ava DuVerney—who then quoted and tweeted the article out last night. I think I’m gonna laminate it.


Shit dude. Anything else?

Barnes & Noble selected it for their Discover Great New Writers program, which means it will receive extended display placement in each of their stores.


Booklist called it “A passionate, wryly bittersweet tribute to black life sharply observed A must read” and gave it a starred review.

Publishers Review called it “Darkly hilarious.”

Ibram X. Kendi said this about it:

Striking in its storytelling and imagery, in its honesty and humor, in its self-reflection and self-criticism, in its Blackness and humanity. Damon Young produced an unobstructed and unsanitized memoir that few people have the courage to write and all people should be encouraged to read.


Rebecca Traister said this:

In this funny, illuminating and occasionally gutting book, Damon Young wrestles with his own masculinity, fears and lies, all while remaining unrelenting in his determination to learn and teach something valuable about blackness in America. He more than succeeds, in a volume that is a pleasure and an education.


Brittney Cooper said this:

Damon Young manages to pull off a memoir in essays that is by turns serious, political, self-reflective and hella funny at the same damn time. And he does so while rejecting the trope of tortured Black manhood so common these days. This book left me feeling thankful and hopeful.


Kiese Laymon wrote a whole entire ass paragraph:

I’m pretty sure Damon Young pulled off something we’ve been trying to pull off for decades. Of course, the book is absurdly trenchant, bouncy, tragicomic, both expansive and local. But somehow, someway, Damon made the page bend around my head and heart in a way I honestly didn’t think the essay or memoir forms were capable of bending. In What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker, Damon is inviting us in, and tending so tenderly to what black folk in this country are afraid to admit we’ve seen. He does it by mediating the best of what folk call literary writing and the best of what folk call populous writing. Yet, the language, as Morrison says, never sweats; it laughs, it watches us laugh, it watches us hide, which means we are no longer hiding. If we look closely, I think we might see that Damon invented another literary form here. If we look ever closer, that literary form might actually save the parts of our lives that need saving. I am thankful to be alive during the artful and art filled life of Damon Young.


There’s also been profiles/features/reviews/excerpts in Mother Jones, Entertainment Weekly, the Pittsburgh City Paper and a dozen other publications (including this one in CanadaI’m INTERNATIONAL, B), with a few super major ones to come.


I also did a video.

You did a video?

I did multiple videos, actually. Some will drop in the next week, but here’s one that I did with Ecco:


Shit. You do say neuroses 17 times. So are you going on tour? 

Yup! Below is the tour schedule:

Illustration for article titled Everything You Need to Know About What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker, Explained

Damn dude. You’re everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. No Texas. No Ohio. No Memphis, New Orleans, Birmingham, Memphis, Charlotte, Baltimore, Boston and other cities I’d assume you’d have a market in. What’s up with that?

Good question! The best and most honest answer is that tour budgets only go but so far, and these were the cities and partners that made the most logistical sense right now. Fortunately, stops can be added in the late spring and summer if there’s enough interest to bring me out there.


Anyway, for more info about the tour and each stop, go to hc.com/damonyoung.

What are you most looking forward to?

Probably just hearing and seeing and reading that niggas are feeling my book. Everything else is sausage gravy.


Sausage gravy isn’t always the most, um, reliable.


Anything else?

Preorders really, really, really matter apparently, so if you’re interested in buying the book—or if you’re not all that interested but you just want to do me a favor because it’s Lent—buy it today. (And then come see me if I’m in one of your cities, and buy another one! If you buy two books I will buy you at least one drink.)


Okay, you don’t really have to buy two. Unless you want to.

Seriously though. Thank you. For reading this. For reading VSB. For forcing me to be better. For entertaining the idea of buying and reading and feeling What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker. And for not getting on me too much about my tattoo.


Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)


Old white guy

Two important questions (and I promise not to call you Panama again - or did I call Panama ‘damon’? One or the other):

1. Is it OK for a white guy to buy your book? I may not read it (I have many books I’ve bought and never read, why not yours!). I just don’t want to be stepping on any cultural appropriation, but I promise not to read it in public if I do get it (because, there would go your cred).

2. What is the best way to purchase it that gets you the most money (ebook vs printed)? And does one affect your standing more than the other? I don’t know how the royalties work, or is that like “Don’t worry about it, at this point you’ll get nothing any way you see fit, it’s all about the next book deal!”?