We were thrilled to welcome author Yaa Gyasi to St. Andrew's via Zoom on Friday, April 2 Yaa Gyasi is a Ghanian-American novelist whose debut novel, Homegoing, is St. Andrew's all-school read for the 2020-2021 school year. Homegoing received the 2016 John Leonard Award for best first book from the National Book Critics Circle, the 2017 PEN/Hemingway Award, and an American Book Award. During her visit to SAS, she talked with two groups of students, then held a reading and Q&A session, moderated by Dean of Diversity Education Devin Duprey, for the entire community.
For her reading, Gyasi read the opening chapter of her second novel, Transcendent Kingdom, published in 2020. She then spent over an hour answering questions from students, faculty, alumni, and parents on the Zoom.
"I'm an alum of St. Andrew's," Duprey said as she began to moderate the Q&A, "and reading [Homegoing], I wished so much that I was able to have a book like this during my time at the school and to be able to read this in my English classes. I'm grateful that this generation of St Andrew's students have this book today."
When asked by an alumnae—who noted that she herself was a "product of the Ghanaian diaspora myself, and I often feel like I can't quite fully claim any of the aspects of my identity"—if Gyasi ever felt anything like "imposter syndrome" while writing Homegoing, and if so, how she worked through it, Gyasi responded:
"You're singing my song. That's what I had felt my entire life [and] that was the reason I wanted to write this book. In some ways I'm always feeling as though I'm existing in an in-between space where I'm not sure how much I can claim [or] what it might look like to claim that identity and homegoing. [This feeling] certainly led to many, many nights of feeling imposter syndrome—many nights of wondering whether I could write this—not just not just if I had the skill to write this, but whether or not I have the permission to write this. Part of the way that I made sense of it, and part of the way that I gave myself permission, was the understanding that there are so many of us out there, like you, like me, who do feel this kind of dislocation, When we talk about diaspora as a family, this is part of what we're talking about. Homegoing was, in that way, kind of a healing process: I get to write myself into a lineage and a history that perhaps would have otherwise been denied to me. I recognize that there are probably plenty of Ghanaians who take issue with parts of the book, as there are plenty of African-Americans who might take issue with parts of the book. It's not going to satisfy everyone. It's not going to feel like everyone's history. But even with that, I think that the act of writing the book that you want to see—the book that you need to read—that in and of itself, I think, is is as much permissiveness as as anyone can need."
Gyasi met with a small group of students after the full-community event, and her final words to that smaller group, referenced Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Beautiful Struggle, his memoir about growing up in West Baltimore. "She urged us to be aware of the weight of history we carry," noted Dean of Teaching & Learning Elizabeth Roach, who organized Gyasi's visit. "[She urged us] to keep struggling, to make the active decision to keep going and to keep fighting for justice—even when we don’t see the effects of our struggle, even when we don’t feel or see joy and hope. In fact, the struggle itself is the reward. The struggle itself is meaningful, is beautiful."