Writer of Color: Yaa Gyasi

Writer of Color Yaa Gyasi
Photo from Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau

Quick Facts on Writer of Color Yaa Gyasi

  • Ghanaian-American writer
  • Writes fiction, novels
  • Published her debut novel at age 26
  • Graduated from Iowa Writers’ Workshop

Biography of Writer of Color Yaa Gyasi

Writer of color Yaa Gyasi was born in 1989 in Mampong, Ghana before relocating to the US with her parents and brothers in 1991. While her father completed his Ph.D, her mother worked as nurse. They lived in Ohio, Illinois, and Tennessee before settling more permanently in Alabama.

Yaa Gyasi began writing seriously at the age of 17. Later, she went to study at Stanford. While there, she received a grant and used it to visit Ghana, retracing her father’s personal history. Her research there became the basis of her debut novel. Upon graduation, Gyasi worked in San Francisco before pursuing writing full-time at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. There, she completed her debut novel Homegoing.

To read a bit on her writing process, check out this piece she wrote for The Guardian.

For more on author of color Yaa Gyasi, read her page from PRH Speakers Bureau.

Before You Read Writer of Color Yaa Gyasi

Gyasi’s book Homegoing follows the stories of two sisters born in different Ghanaian villages. Each leads a vastly different life of fortune from the other.

The story follows them for eight generations, alternating between sister and sister. One’s family is sold into slavery. The other stays free in wealthy Ghana. Starting with the Gold Coast of Ghana to the American Civil War, from Mississippi to Harlem, generation after generation of this singular family feels the reverberations of their collective history.

The term homegoing refers to a traditional service practiced by African American Christians. It celebrates the return of one’s spirit after death to final home heaven.

Gold Coast, Ghana

The Gold Coast of Ghana was a British colony, located on the outer perimeter of Ghana in West Africa. Historically, its soil was rich in gold, making it prime real estate for colonizers. The first Europeans arrived to the Ghana in the 1400s. First came the Portuguese, then the British, Swedish and Dutch.

Eventually, the Portuguese settlers captured and exported African slaves to the Caribbean islands. By the 1800s, the British Gold Coast colony monopolized the gold and slave trade. They also exploited other natural resources native to Ghana including iron ore, copper, timber, cocoa, ivory and pepper.

A Brief History of Ghana

Ghana is located in western Africa, right along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Its geography has made it rich in natural resources and relatively easy to travel.

During the 11thcentury, several different empires and kingdoms reigned over the territory of what is now considered Ghana. Chief among them was the Ashanti Empire (also spelled Asante.) About 400 years later, European settlers colonized the area. From the 1800s to 1900, for 100 years, the Ashtani Empire fought against British forces.

It was not until the 1940s with World War II that the native Ghanaians were granted more autonomy. By 1957, Ghana became an independent country.

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The first president of Ghana was Kwame Nkrumah, a native Ghanaian who studied at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He meshed together what he learned in the US the teachings of Marcus Garvey, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and W.E.B. Du Bois into his political ideology for new Ghana.

Quotes from Writer of Color Yaa Gyasi

(on Homegoing) “That just felt necessary to me. This book was not written for or about white people. It is for and about us black people—West Africans, African Americans—and it felt important to me to not center whiteness ever in this novel.”

 “There are a lot of writers who are focusing on the slow and systemic building of different aspects of racism in America. Obviously, I’m thinking about [Ta-Nehisi] Coates’s writing about housing and “The Case for Reparations,” but also Isabel Wilkerson’s writing about the Great Migration. Nikole Hannah-Jones is doing a lot of great work on education. These writers are taking a very long view of American history, and their works have been really exciting. I think it’s cool that my book is coming out now that this kind of work is starting to gain more traction and be more a part of the conversation in America. Hopefully my book adds to that.”

Works by Writer of Color Yaa Gyasi

2016 Homegoing

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