MacArthur ‘Genius’ Kiese Laymon to serve as Jackson State University’s 2023 Spring undergraduate commencement speaker

JACKSON, Miss. — Jackson State University is pleased to announce award-winning novelist and MacArthur Fellow Kiese Laymon as its 2023 undergraduate commencement speaker on Saturday, April 29, at 9 a.m. CST at the Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.

“We are honored to have Jackson’s native son Kiese Laymon return home and impart impactful words of wisdom on our graduates, propelling them forward as they influence and shape our world for the better,” said JSU Acting President Dr. Elayne H. Anthony. “Mr. Laymon and his work reflect the creativity and brilliance we see and nurture in our graduates, so we certainly look forward to his address.” 

Laymon is a Black southern writer and acclaimed author from the city of Jackson. His work illustrates Black life within the Southern states and the violence and oppression undergirding those experiences. 

In his observant, often hilarious work, Laymon battles the personal and the political: race and family, body and shame, poverty and place. His savage humor and clear-eyed perceptiveness have earned him comparisons to Ta-Nehisi Coates, Alice Walker, and Mark Twain. He is the author of the award-winning memoir Heavy, the groundbreaking essay collection How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, and the genre-defying novel Long Division

Laymon’s memoir Heavy won the 2019 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, was named one of the 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years by The New York Times, and secured the top spot as a best book of 2018 by the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, NPR, The Washington Post, and Entertainment Weekly.

In 2022, Laymon was selected as a recipient of the MacArthur Fellows Program, affectionately nicknamed “the genius grant” – the opportunity only extended to 20 people each year, celebrating and highlighting the creative genius of each participant and their ability to show exceptional originality and dedication to their creative pursuits. 

A member of Black Artists for Freedom, he was named to the Ebony Magazine Power 100 in 2015 and selected as a member of the Root 100 in 2013 and 2014. Laymon is a graduate of Oberlin College and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Indiana University. He also founded the Catherine Coleman Initiative for the Arts and Social Justice, a program to engage Mississippi kids and their parents more comfortably with reading, writing, revising, and sharing. 

Commencement Event Protocols:

  • This is a non-ticketed event. 
  • The Department of Public Safety will conduct bag checks upon entry.
  • Doors will open at 7 a.m. CT.
  • Doors will close at 8:50 a.m. CT prior to the procession and re-open after the invocation.
  • The event will be live-streamed via @JacksonStateU on YouTube and Facebook.
  • Additional information is available at