The Ezra Klein Show: Two Acclaimed Writers on the Art of Revising Your Life

New York Times Opinion New York Times Opinion 11/9/21 - Episode Page

Many of the most contentious debates right now center on whether we, as individuals — and as a country — are willing to revise. To revise our understanding of history. To revise the kind of language we use. To revise the nature of our personal, and national, identities. To revise how we act in our everyday relationships.

Revision like this is often necessary, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Making fundamental changes to the way we think, speak and act requires the kind of self-scrutiny, discomfort and sacrifice that many of us would rather avoid.

There are few public figures who model revision — of one’s work and one’s life — as openly and honestly as Kiese Laymon. Laymon has written the prizewinning memoir “Heavy” as well as essays for The New York Times, ESPN and the Oxford American. His nonfiction tackles sports, popular culture, the politics of literary publishing and, above all, his home state of Mississippi. On every page, you’ll find wit, but also heart-stopping vulnerability and a reckoning with tough love: for himself, his kin, his community and the complicated places where he has spent his life.

Laymon has mastered the art of revising his own words. But for him, revision is also a moral, even a spiritual, act — a crucial part of becoming a loving and responsible human being. He is the first to admit that he is a work in progress, that each period of his life is a draft that can be improved. In a way, Laymon thinks of his entire life as an act of revision. And he nurtures a radical hope that America can change for the better, too.

This conversation focuses on how Laymon thinks about revision. But it also considers how he navigates a publishing world that often puts pressure on minority-group artists to suppress their full identities to appeal to white audiences, the way his writing pushes the boundaries of conventional genre and canon, why Americans have such a hard time reassessing ourselves and what we can gain from trying to change.


"A Southern Gothic" by Adia Victoria

Book Recommendations:

South to America by Imani Perry

Shoutin' in the Fire by Danté Stewart

Abolition for the People by Colin Kaepernick

This episode is guest-hosted by Tressie McMillan Cottom, a sociologist and writer whose work focuses on higher education policy, popular culture, race, beauty and more. She writes a weekly New York Times newsletter and is the author of “Thick and Other Essays,” which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and “Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy.” You can follow her on Twitter @TressieMcPhD. (Learn more about the other guest hosts during Ezra’s parental leave here.)

You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of "The Ezra Klein Show" at, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein. Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at

Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at

“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld and Rogé Karma; fact-checking by Julie Beer and Michelle Harris; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Jeff Geld, audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin.