What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker

A Memoir in Essays by Damon Young

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir In Essays is a tragicomic exploration of the angsts, anxieties, and absurdities of existing while black in America, and won Barnes & Noble's 2019 Discover Award. It was also longlisted for the PEN America Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award, nominated for an NAACP Image Award, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and a Thurber Prize for American Humor, and is a Krause Essay Prize nominee. NPR, which named it one of the best books of 2019, called it an "outstanding collection of nonfiction."


"With this absurdly trenchant, bouncy, tragicomic, expansive yet intimate book, Damon somehow, someway, made the page bend around my head and heart in a manner I honestly didn’t think the essay or memoir forms were capable of bending."

—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy

"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."

—Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award-winning author Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

"Damon Young's essays about his life are funny, illuminating and occasionally gutting. He is curious and wise in his story-telling, lingering on questions of place (Pittsburgh) and parenthood (his parents' and his own), of love and sex and sports and men and women; he wrestles with his own masculinity, his fears and his 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."

—Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad

"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."

—Brittney Cooper, author of Eloquent Rage

“Authentic, keen, and touching . . . The beauty of What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is that Young never tries to make it easy for readers. . . this timely and powerful book. . . like the work of bell hooks and Roxane Gay, should be required reading.” (NPR)

“The VerySmartBrothas.com cofounder and senior editor for The Root has already established himself as one of our most vibrant voices on race. Now comes his first book, a blazing memoir in essays.” (Entertainment Weekly, “20 Great New Books to Read this March”)

“One of the freshest, most impor¬tant black voices on the internet.” (Mother Jones)

“A fascinating exploration of how race, class and gender, inform notions of black identity in American life [and] an astute critique of the contours along which black people survive the limitations of historic and systemic racism . . . language is itself a central character.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

“Readers who know Young’s work from the blog he co-founded, Very Smart Brothas, will recognize his voice, his fondness for lists, his precise, comprehensive and spectacular references to pop culture, his wit and his keen mind.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“Brave, incisive and witty. . . an essential American voice . . . Young is . . . the American writer who could bridge our racial divide . . . Sometimes as profanely magnificent as a Richard Pryor routine, but just as often droll in the vein of David Sedaris.” (Pittsburgh Quarterly)

Tour Dates

NEW YORK, NY: Monday, March 25, 2019, 7:00 PM

Barnes and Noble Upper West Side

In-conversation with Hannah Giorgis, Staff Writer at The Atlantic

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NEW YORK, NY: Tuesday, March 26, 2019, 7:00 PM

Murmrr with Community Bookstore

In-conversation with Nikole Hannah Jones, The New York Times Magazine

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WASHINGTON, DC: Wednesday, March 27, 2019, 7:00 PM

Politics and Prose at The Wharf

In-conversation with Panama Jackson, Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas

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ATLANTA, GA: Thursday, March 28, 2019, 7:00 PM

Charis Books at The Auburn Ave Research Library on African American Culture and History

In-conversation with David Dennis, Jr., Writer and Professor of Journalism at Morehouse College

(photo: John Ramspott)

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ST. LOUIS, MO: Friday, March 29, 2019, 7:00 PM

Left Bank Books at The Studio at Kranzberg Arts Center

In-conversation with Alona Sistrunk, “We Live Here” Producer at St. Louis Public Radio

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PITTSBURGH, PA: Monday, April 1, 2019, 7:00 PM

Barnes & Noble at Homestead Waterfront

(photo: sarah huny young)

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PITTSBURGH, PA: Wednesday, April 3, 2019, 7:00 PM

Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures at Carnegie Lecture Hall

In-conversation with Tony Norman, Book Review Editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

(photo: Sean Carroll)

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BUFFALO, NY: Tuesday, April 9, 2019, 7:00 PM

Canisius College at Montante Cultural Center

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SEATTLE, WA: Friday, April 12, 2019, 7:00 PM

Elliott Bay with the Northwest African American Museum

In-conversation with Ijeoma Oluo, Author of So You Want to Talk about Race

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LOS ANGELES, CA: Saturday, April 13, 2019, 3:00 PM

LA Times Festival of Books

Panel with Nafissa Thompson-Spires and Morgan Parker, moderated by Rebecca Carroll

(photo courtesy David Hunter Jr.)

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA: Monday, April 15, 2019, 7:00 PM

California Institute of Integral Studies

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CHICAGO, IL: Tuesday, April 16, 2019, 7:00 PM

The Seminary Co-op w/ The Center for the Study of Race, Politics & Culture @ The University of Chicago

In-conversation with Samantha Irby, author of We Are Never Meeting in Real Life and Meaty

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DETROIT, MI: Wednesday, April 17, 2019, 6:00 PM

Detroit Public Library with Literati Bookstore

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Photo Gallery

WASHINGTON, DC: Saturday, April 27, 2019, 11:00 AM

National Antiracist Book Festival at American University

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PHILADELPHIA, PA: Wednesday, May 1, 2019, 7:00 PM

Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books

(photo courtesy Richelle Payne)

GAITHERSBURG, MD: Saturday, May 18, 2019, 12:15 PM

Gaithersburg Book Festival 

Damon Young in conversation Carmen Phelps

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