‘You are the Second Person’ by Kiese Laymon

After this I’ll shut up about the second person. In ‘You are the Second Person’ the protagonist ignores mounting health concerns in their ambition to become a published author. The power dynamics at play are racially driven ones; an editor, Brandon Fraser, abuses the protagonist’s trust and manipulates them, repeatedly employing the terminology “a real black writer” as a catchall term for someone willing to subjugate their individuality and commercialise their blackness. Towards the end of the novel the protagonist capitulates to Fraser, and abandons the manuscript they’ve devoted years to. The protagonist sits down, weeps, and begins something new. The new work begins, ‘“Alone, you sit on the floor…”’ and upon questioning their choice of the second person, the voice of the story says, ‘You are the “I” to no one in the world, not even yourself.” This, I think, is the most succinct way of describing the reason behind, and the effect of, the second person. As a means of addressing trauma, the second person can draw a reader in, inveigle them in this exposition of powerlessness, while simultaneously detaching a speaker from themselves. 

First published in Guernica in July 2013, and available to read online here. Collected in How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, Scribner, 2013