Criticism & Features

Year 2020: 30 Books

This Is Major by Shayla Lawson: 2020 Autobiography Finalist

By Megan Labrise

This Is Major: Notes on Diana Ross, Dark Girls, and Being Dope by Shayla Lawson (Harper Perennial)

“The color of this book is Grace Jones / strapped into an electrical socket. The patron / saint, a black & white photograph of Diana Ross / enjoying a rib…” 

The first chapter of Shayla Lawson’s electric memoir This Is Major: Notes on Diana Ross, Dark Girls, and Being Dope opens with these vibrant lines. Subsequent shout-outs to black women, femmes, and girls—modern and historic, famous and familial (“This book’s favorite gang sign is FKA twigs. / This book wants a selfie with Deana Lawson’s / living room…”)—announce the author’s intention to construct a space where they are centered and celebrated. Poems, essays, in-jokes, and a screenplay are the building materials for this exquisite theater-in-words. And the marquee reads: WE ARE MAJOR. 

Lawson, who is author of three books of poetry (A Speed Education in Human Being, PANTONE, and I Think I’m Ready to See Frank Ocean) and director of Creative Writing at Amherst College, artfully orients her life in the grand tradition of black women who imagined bright and complex futures for themselves, despite our country’s refusal to recognize the full spectrum of their potential and amplitude of their worth. From a poignant account of her time as a cast member in a teen touring production of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf to the dazzling antepenultimate essay on the legendary Diana Ross, This Is Major is “a hilarious, heartbreaking, and endlessly entertaining homage to black women’s resilience and excellence,” Kirkus writes (starred review). And the star says: READ THIS BOOK.

Lawson is a major talent.