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Yaa Gyasi

Author of Homegoing and Transcendent Kingdom, and recipient of the National Book Foundation's 'Under 35' award

  • About Yaa Gyasi

    Novelist Yaa Gyasi is the author of Homegoing, one of the most celebrated debuts of 2016. A riveting, kaleidoscopic novel, Homegoing is a story of race, history, ancestry, love, and time that traces the descendants of two sisters torn apart in eighteenth-century Africa across three hundred years in Ghana and AmericaAn important new literary voice, Gyasi’s writing has been praised by National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates as “an inspiration” and “what happens when you pair a gifted literary mind to an epic task.” In September 2016, she was chosen by Coates as one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” honorees. Personable and intimate, Gyasi’s lectures explore contemporary craft, cultural identity, and the complex racial landscape of America’s past and present.

    Homegoing is the story of two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and will live in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle, raising children who will be sent abroad to be educated before returning to the Gold Coast to serve as administrators of the empire. Esi, imprisoned beneath Effia in the Castle’s women’s dungeon and then shipped off on a boat bound for America, will be sold into slavery. Homegoing stretches from the wars of Ghana to slavery and the Civil War in America, from the coal mines in the American South to the Great Migration and twentieth-century Harlem. A powerful and emotional American novel about race and history, this is truly a book for our times.

    Her stunning follow-up novel, Transcendent Kingdom, is a powerful, raw, intimate, deeply layered novel about a Ghanaian family in Alabama.  Transcendent Kingdom was an instant New York Times bestseller.

    Born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama, Gyasi is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and lives in Berkeley, California. She is the winner of the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Novel, and was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize. Homegoing also was a winner at the 2017 Audie Awards.

  • Speaking Topics


    An Iowa Writer’s Workshop graduate, Gyasi reflects on the personal experiences that inspired her to write her breathtaking debut novel Homegoing, as well as the craft and research involved in her writing process.

    Identity and the African Diaspora

    Born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, Gyasi interweaves history, current events, and her own experiences to explore the complexities and intersections of African immigrant and African-American identities in the United States today.

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  • Praise for Yaa Gyasi


    Everything went exceptionally well, and there is still a buzz at the Foundation about the event. People thoroughly enjoyed the conversation, and Yaa was so gracious, kind, accommodating and relatable. She truly left an impression on the Foundation community and on our president who made time out of his schedule to come by to personally say hello and thank Yaa. Many people have also said it was the best event of the year—and one retiree sent me an email, that it was the best and most fulfilling event of his 15 year tenure at the Foundation.

    Yvonne Darkwa-Poku, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

    Praise for Transcendent Kingdom

    Yaa Gyasi’s profoundly moving second novel takes place in the vast, fragile landscape where the mysteries of God and the certainties of science collide. Through deliberate and precise prose, the book becomes an expansive meditation on grief, religion, and family.

    The Boston Globe

    Laser-like... A powerful, wholly unsentimental novel about family love, loss, belonging and belief that is more focused but just as daring as its predecessor, and to my mind even more successful… [Transcendent Kingdom] is burningly dedicated to the question of meaning… The pressure created gives her novel a hard, beautiful, diamantine luster.

    Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

    A luminous, heartbreaking and redemptive American story, Transcendent Kingdom is the mark of a brilliant writer who is just getting started.”

    Seattle Times

    If you read one book this year, make it Yaa Gyasi's Transcendent Kingdom.

    Pop Sugar

    A book of blazing brilliance... a novel of profound scientific and spiritual reflection that recalls the works of Richard Powers and Marilynne Robinson... A double helix of wisdom and rage twists through the quiet lines...Thank God, we have this remarkable novel.

    Ron Charles, The Washington Post

    Poised to be the literary event of the fall.

    Entertainment Weekly

    Unforgettable... Transcendent Kingdom has an expansive scope that ranges into fresh, relevant territories—much like the title, which suggests a better world beyond the life we inhabit.

    BookPage (starred review)

    Gyasi’s wise second novel pivots toward intimacy… In precise prose, Gyasi creates an ache of recognition, especially for readers knowledgeable about the wreckage of addiction. Still, she leavens this nonlinear novel with sly humor… The author is astute about childhood grandiosity and a pious girl’s deep desire to be good; she conveys in brief strokes the notched, nodding hook of heroin’s oblivion…final chapter that gives readers a taste of hard-won deliverance.

    Kirkus Reviews (Starred review)

    I would say that Transcendent Kingdom is a novel for our time (and it is) but it is so much more than that. It is a novel for all times. The splendor and heart and insight and brilliance contained in the pages holds up a light the rest of us can follow.

    Ann Patchett

    With deft agility and undeniable artistry, Gyasi’s latest is an eloquent examination of resilient survival.


    Meticulous, psychologically complex...At once a vivid evocation of the immigrant experience and a sharp delineation of an individual’s inner struggle, the novel brilliantly succeeds on both counts.

    Publishers Weekly [starred review]

    Praise for Homegoing

    Tremendous…spectacular…[Homegoing is] essential reading from a young writer whose stellar instincts, sturdy craftsmanship and penetrating wisdom seem likely to continue apace — much to our good fortune as readers.

    The San Francisco Chronicle

    [A] commanding debut . . . will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. When people talk about all the things fiction can teach its readers, they’re talking about books like this.

    Steph Opitz, Marie Claire

    Rarely does a grand, sweeping epic plumb interior lives so thoroughly. Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is a marvel.

    Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

    The hypnotic debut novel by Yaa Gyasi, a stirringly gifted writer . . . magical . . . the great, aching gift of the novel is that it offers, in its own way, the very thing that enslavement denied its descendants: the possibility of imagining the connection between the broken threads of their origins.

    Isabel Wilkerson, The New York Times Book Review

    ...a narrative that is earnest, well-crafted yet not overly self-conscious, marvelous without being precious...Yaa Gyasi has given rare and heroic voice to the missing and suppressed.


    Gyasi’s characters are so fully realized, so elegantly carved—very often I found myself longing to hear more. Craft is essential given the task Gyasi sets for herself—drawing not just a lineage of two sisters but two related peoples. Gyasi is deeply concerned with the sin of selling humans on Africans, not Europeans. But she does not scold. She does not excuse. And she does not romanticize. The black Americans she follows are not overly virtuous victims. Sin comes in all forms, from selling people to abandoning children. I think I needed to read a book like this to remember what is possible. I think I need to remember what happens when you pair a gifted literary mind to an epic task. Homegoing is an inspiration.

    Ta-Nehisi Coates, National Book Award winning author of Between the World and Me

    Homegoing is a remarkable feat—a novel at once epic and intimate, capturing the moral weight of history as it bears down on individual struggles, hopes, and fears. A tremendous debut.

    Phil Klay, National Book Award winning author of Redeployment
  • Books by Yaa Gyasi

  • Media About Yaa Gyasi

    Novelist Yaa Gyasi

    When My Mother Came to Stay


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