These illuminating essays explore Shayla Lawson's experiences traveling across the globe as a nonbinary and disabled Black person. Each essay is a well-crafted piece that can turn your view of the world on its head. As a whole, the collection doesn't have a very strong through-line or consistent voice, making it feel like each essay was crafted to stand alone. But still a lot to learn and appreciate in Lawson's writing!
Inspiring and thought provoking. I recommend this book and look forward to more from this author.
****Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review****
This is a beautifully written and emotionally powerful collection of essays by Shayla Lawson. From the GR description “…Lawson journeys across the globe, finds beauty in tumultuous times, and powerfully disrupts the constraints of race, gender, and disability. With their signature prose, Shayla Lawson travels the world to explore deeper meanings held within love, time, and the self.”
This is the type of writing that begs to be highlighted and underlines. Before seeing that the author is a poet, I could already feel it in the writing. This is such a personal and reflective collection - really glad Lawson chose to share it with us. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the free ebook to review.
This is my first encounter with Shayla Lawson's writing and I'm almost ashamed to admit that but reading How to Live Free in a Dangerous World has been so beautifully rewarding. Each essay was like an entry into a traveler's journal. With each new city, country, continent, came a new story, a life lesson and oftentimes I found myself looking up to see if someone else had read that line or that passage and experienced the same "Hell Yeah!" moment.
This is a memoir that I would revisit and reference when I wanted insight on a certain topic or to feel kinship when lonely. The chapters are titled on intimacy, on privilege, on sex etc. You can certainly skip around and read what you are drawn to after reading it in full of course. That's just my suggestion. However you consume it, you will not be disappointed.
What I assumed would be a traditional travelogue was instead a remarkable personal journey of self-discovery, liberation, friendship, love, grief, loss, identity, race, gender, and disability through a changing lens of cities and cultures around the world. Lawson writes from a perspective that until now has been largely missing from the travel community. Each essay was a poignant exploration of identity and how it evolves over time and from place to place. Lawson’s essays flow like prose poems and weave through the complexities they explore. I learned so much reading this, and hope a new generation of travelers is born from it.
Thank you to NetGalley and Tiny Reparations Books for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Shayla Lawson’s memoir of essays is special. That seems like such a simple way to describe this book, but it is accurate. Much like the beautiful and vulnerable photo Lawson chooses for the cover, the essays unfold in ways that are inviting, thoughtful, and yet remind the reader of where they stand in space. The organization flows, bucking the linear model many memoirist choose, moving instead through themes. Lawson both invites readers that are like and unlike her to listen and engage, but without teaching or orating. Instead it is just through existing and building intricate and interesting spirals of emotion, experience and thought.
This was a slow read for me. After every essay I needed time to think, to dig into what I had read and what those subtle implications were floating just below the surface. Everytime I gave myself space to explore I was satisfied.
Highly recommend this lovely and challenging book.
This is a collection of essays-as-memoir, creating what is essentially a nonlinear account of the author’s travels around the world, self-discovery, experiences bonding with other Black and black folks, and experiences of racism. The writing renders in words the essence of what it is like to exist and travel as a Black femme. The intersectionality of the author’s lens (Black, non-binary, femme, religious, globetrotter) immediately made this a wonder of a book for me. I wanted so much to just give it 5 stars and feast on every single word, but a number of the passages lost me to the point where I couldn’t quite extract meaning from them. I struggled with whether this was simply my own processing issue, or lack of shared heritage, and certainly there were some references I didn’t get that slowed me down. Ultimately though, there were multiple pages I had to read like poetry and let the words wash over me. Not necessarily a bad thing, or an unexpected thing from a poet, but I wanted so much to understand EVERYTHING. But maybe that’s too greedy. I’ve written myself back to a 5-star review.
This is a memoir as much about life in general as it is about the author’s life. I love that the title is “how to” - like a user’s guide I want to follow. Part memoir, part travelogue, part manifesto, each chapter of this book pairs a theme with a city.
On Sex (LA)
On Privilege (Roosteren, Netherlands)
On Love (New York)
On Time (Mexico City)
Online (Montélimar, France)
On Trafficking (Shanghai)
This is not a book to speed through. I had to read this slowly to truly savor each word and reflect on the themes in my own life. It’s not surprising that the prose was so captivating since Lawson is a poet. Even if you don’t share any of Lawson’s identities - Black, nonbinary, disabled, queer, traveler, artist - you’ll find this relatable in so many ways.
How many essay collections by Black women have you read? Memoirs? How about travelogues? If your quick answer to that last question was one, and you meant Nanjala Nyabola’s Travelling While Black: Essays Inspired by a Life on the Move, that makes two of us—before I read this book.
There’s long been a perception that Black people don’t travel, and perhaps the market for books about Black travel was small as a result. Happily, Black people themselves are changing this perception in small and large ways (see Travel Noire on Instagram, for example). Far more importantly, Black women’s voices are still so rarely heard, particularly in non-fiction about life experiences, making books like Nyabola’s and Lawson’s crucial records.
Like Nyabola’s book, however, Lawson’s How to Live Free in a Dangerous World rather defies the categorisation of travelogue (and admittedly doesn’t claim to be). There’s a lot about travel—Lawson has visited and lived in lots of fascinating places—but this is very much a book about Lawson’s personal journey: inward to find themself (Lawson’s preferred pronoun) and in the process to find liberation, and then outward to give that liberation to the world. If that sounds a little mystical, it is in some ways—the spirit is never far away from their ruminations—but that doesn’t at all take away from how valuable, readable and entertaining these essays are.
Lawson, like Nyabola, uses place as a tether—a placeholder, if you like—to confront issues affecting Black people. Where Nyabola addresses subjects like justice and freedom, Lawson tackles Blackness, relationships, gender, time, disability and chronic illness, sex, privilege, and liberation, among other things.
Lawson is a deeply engaging writer; I sat with their book all weekend, only putting it down to look things up or to say, “Hmm…” and make notes. I do confess to picking this up in the first place to read about their time in Zimbabwe, and that delivered! (Zimbabwe is a very small place.) Apart from that, though, there’s a great deal in here that’s worth re-reading, and through their journeys and meditations on them, Lawson brings so much healing, care and affirmation to the woundedness of Black women’s hearts. Buy this one for your sisters.
Thank you to NetGalley and to Tiny Reparations Books.
I will be brief with this because I want to save the possibility for review for publication. There are not enough Black queer travel writers and Shayla's work (even just the footwork and miles traveled) amazed me. As someone that falls into the same intersection (nonbinary/queer, Black, disabled) the representation itself made my day.
I thought this was incredibly well written and captivating. All of the essays were engaging and left me wanting more. I'm usually hesitant to review anything that is a memoir or autobiographical because I don't like to put a "rating" on a persons life. I love the way stories are paired with cities and I felt like the flow was consistent throughout all of them. I enjoyed the writing style - it felt very specific to Shayla and gave further insight.
Thank you NetGalley and Penguin Group Dutton/Tiny Reparations Books for the opportunity to read this in return for my honest review.
The concept of pairing life’s themes and emotions with various cities across the globe was really intriguing! And, many of the relationships Shayla formed with folks abroad speak to the complexities of being a Black American woman existing outside the U.S. There were definitely times when Shayla’s stream of conscious got in the way of understanding the story, forcing me to go back a few pages and try to put the pieces together. When the plot is on track, like her telling of the toxic Dutch friend, the book feels relateable even when rooted in foreign land. But, when the reflections go outside the moment set up, like the Intimacy essay, I get totally lost and wonder, “Exactly what is she talking about.”
I’m wondering if this is because there still needs to be some proofreading or it’s actually Shayla’s writing style? Regardless, aside from the occasional confusing tangent, it was a good book. Thank you NetGalley for the ARC.
How to Live Free in a Dangerous World is a superb Decolonial Memoir by Shayla Lawson.
Woah! This author swept me up with her compelling narrative. Lawson’s writing style is bold and captivating.
I was hanging on her every word. It was honestly spectacular.
Her beautiful, thoughtful, grounded prose and writing had me feeling like I was right beside tagging along on this special journey.
These admirable crafted essays were Lawson’s journeys across the globe, finds beauty in tumultuous times, and powerfully disrupts the constraints of race, gender, and disability.
This was a special read and I’m so thankful I was able to take part in enjoying this memoir.
I would like to thank NetGalley and Penguin Group Dutton/Tiny Reparations Books for the opportunity to read this ahead of its publication date in return for my honest review.
I was incredibly impressed with this collection of essays. I’m usually not the biggest fan of books of essays , however I was enthralled by this writers offerings, that in many ways read like the most delicious short stories. Gorgeous writing,
absolutely adored this one! loved learning about Lawson & her experiences as a Black woman, as well as her experiences just as a human being -- exploring and experiencing and loving and so poignantly reflecting. highly recommend, and can't wait to get my hands on a copy ASAP!
Lawson's collection of essays, "How to Live Free in a Dangerous World" puts me in the mind of listening to my favorite podcast or the dopest social media stream: it's at once familiar and fresh.
Another memoir that made me feel the feels. I loved it! It felt like I was on the trips with them. Well done. Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC. Five stars.
Being Black, being bold, being modest, being open, getting course corrected by life over and over again, being let down, learning how not to let oneself down even when others do, and being free are all aspects of How to Live Free in a Dangerous World. I've been looking forward to Shayla Lawson's book for a long time as a fan and reader. Lawson actually lives what they preach, pursuing a life of self-possession while keeping acutely aware of and grounded in their humanity.
Lawson writes on their experiences as a Black person who has lived and travelled in a variety of countries in their memoir. Her essays offer profound observations on what it means to exist.
How to Live Free in a Dangerous World is all about being: being Black, being bold, being humble, being open, being course corrected by life over and over again, being let down, being someone who is learning how not to let yourself down even when other people do, and being free. As a long time fan and reader of Shayla Lawson I have been looking forward to their memoir. Lawson truly practices what they preach and is all about living a life of
self-possession while remaining deeply aware and grounded in their humanity.
In their memoir, Lawson writes about experiences as a Black person who has lived in and traveled to many different countries. Her essays provide powerful reflections on what it means to live in a Black, femme, disabled body while navigating the politics of American privilege, interracial relationships, academia, and more. I enjoyed that the heavier aspects of the memoir are balanced out with the sounds of Prince, the praise of drag, and the memories of a childhood spent in Kentucky.
I loved reading Lawson's analysis of Audre Lorde's "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power". She makes many poignant arguments about how crucial it is for all of humanity to embrace our desire for pleasure as proof of life.
Thank you to the author and publisher for the e-arc copy!