Ghanaian-American novelist Yaa Gyasi is determined to make a big impact in the literary world with her first historical fiction novel Homegoing which has already earned her a $1-million advance from the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
The novel was inspired by a trip to Ghana in 2009, her first since leaving the country as an infant. According to the Daily Mail, it was on a tour of the former slave-trading fort Cape Coast Castle – “going from the grandeur of upstairs where the slave traders worked to the dungeons below’ – that she realised what she wanted to write about:
‘The idea of placing two people together; the wife of someone above and one of the slaves below. I hope it shows that much of what we’re dealing with [the legacy of slavery] didn’t appear out of nowhere,’ she says. ‘When you see things that are happening today, remember to put them in the context of history”.
Born in Mampong, Ghana, she is the daughter of Kwaku Gyasi, a professor of French at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and her mother Sophia, who is a nurse.
Her family moved to the United States in 1991 when her father was completing his Ph.D. at Ohio State University. The family also lived in Illinois and Tennessee, and from the age of 10, Gyasi was raised in Huntsville, Alabama.
She completed the book in 2015, and after initial readings from publishers, was met with numerous offers before she accepted a seven-figure advance from Knopf.
Yaa describes the acclaim that bestseller Homegoing has received as ‘completely overwhelming’. Her highlight? The novel is inspiring readers to dig into their own family history. ‘That response from people is really cool.’
Ta-Nehisi Coates selected Homegoing for the National Book Foundation’s 2016 “5 under 35” award, and the novel also was selected for the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award for best first book.
Homegoing is published by Penguin Books and is on sale at a price of £12.99.