Survival Math

Notes on an All-American Family

An electrifying, dazzlingly written reckoning and an essential addition to the national conversation about race and class, "Survival Math" takes its name from the calculations award-winning author Mitchell S. Jackson made to survive the Portland, Oregon of his youth.

This dynamic book explores gangs and guns, near-death experiences, sex work, masculinity, composite fathers, the concept of “hustle,” and the destructive power of addiction — all framed within the story of Jackson, his family, and his community. Lauded for its breathtaking pace, its tender portrayals, its stark candor, and its luminous style, "Survival Math" reveals on every page the searching intellect and originality of its author. The primary narrative, focused on understanding the antecedents of Jackson’s family’s experience, is complemented by poems composed from historical American documents as well as survivor files, which feature photographs and riveting short narratives of several of Jackson’s male relatives. The sum of "Survival Math’s" parts is a highly original whole, one that reflects on the exigencies — over generations — that have shaped the lives of so many disenfranchised Americans. As essential as it is beautiful, as real as it is artful, Mitchell S. Jackson’s nonfiction debut is a singular achievement, not to be missed.


Mitchell S. Jackson is the John O. Whiteman Dean’s Distinguished Professor in the Department of English at ASU.

Praise for this book

Jackson tells the story of his family ... with radical love and honesty.

The New York Times

In his nonfiction debut, award-winning novelist Mitchell S. Jackson explains what it’s like to grow up black in one of the whitest cities in the country: Portland, Ore. Jackson’s brutally honest memoir delves into his own past — ruminating on his mother’s drug addiction — alongside the histories of the men who came before him. Jackson places his experiences with violence, crime and trauma in a broader context through photographs and stories of his male relatives, illuminating the true costs of survival in the U.S.

Cover of Survival Math by Mitchell S. Jackson
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