Every author has a story beyond the one that they put down on paper. The Barnes & Noble Podcast goes between the lines with today’s most interesting writers, exploring what inspires them, what confounds them, and what they were thinking when they wrote the books we’re talking about.
On this episode of the B&N Podcast, Damon Young joins us to talk about his new book What Doesn’t Kill You Make You Blacker— a reflection on life as a black man in 21st-century America that’s by turns arrestingly honest, deeply incisive, and wonderfully funny. Young came to prominence as a commentator on culture and society through his role as the co-founder and editor in chief of the website VerySmartBrothas; since then he’s become a senior editor at The Root, as well a writer for many print and online publications. What Doesn’t Kill You Make You Blacker is Damon Young’s first book, and he sat down with Barnes & Noble’s Miwa Messer to talk about the stories that he uses to shape a memoir that’s already one of the year’s most significant publishing events.
**A note for listeners about the language in today’s interview: At points, Damon Young quotes strongly offensive language used by others. Parents may find those sections inappropriate for children.**
From the cofounder of VerySmartBrothas.com, and one of the most read writers on race and culture at work today, a provocative and humorous memoir-in-essays that explores the ever-shifting definitions of what it means to be Black (and male) in America.
For Damon Young, existing while Black is an extreme sport. The act of possessing black skin while searching for space to breathe in America is enough to induce a ceaseless state of angst where questions such as “How should I react here, as a professional black person?” and “Will this white person’s potato salad kill me?” are forever relevant.
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker chronicles Young’s efforts to survive while battling and making sense of the various neuroses his country has given him.
It’s a condition that’s sometimes stretched to absurd limits, provoking the angst that made him question if he was any good at the “being straight” thing, as if his sexual orientation was something he could practice and get better at, like a crossover dribble move or knitting; creating the farce where, as a teen, he wished for a white person to call him a racial slur just so he could fight him and have a great story about it; and generating the surreality of watching gentrification transform his Pittsburgh neighborhood from predominantly Black to “Portlandia . . . but with Pierogies.”
And, at its most devastating, it provides him reason to believe that his mother would be alive today if she were white.
From one of our most respected cultural observers, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is a hilarious and honest debut that is both a celebration of the idiosyncrasies and distinctions of Blackness and a critique of white supremacy and how we define masculinity.
Author photo of Damon Young (c) Sarah Huny Young