The Ghanaian-American writer Yaa Gyasi was born in 1989 in Mampong, a small town in the Ashanti region that functioned as the residence of the Kings of Ashanti in tandem with the city of Kumasi. Her family moved to the US in 1991 after Gyasi’s father received his doctorate from Ohio State University and went on to become a professor of French. The family also lived in Illinois and Tennessee, and Gyasi spent her formative years in Huntsville, Alabama, starting at age ten. As the somewhat shy child of immigrants, she found refuge and security above all in books.
After one of her stories was published in an American newspaper – and after reading Toni Morrison’s »Song of Solomon« at age 17 – Gyasi decided to become a writer. She studied English at Stanford and received her master’s from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a creative writing program at the University of Iowa. Prior to that, she worked until 2012 at a startup in San Francisco and began writing her debut novel, which she completed in 2015. »Homegoing« (2016) was inspired by a trip to Ghana that marked her first return there since her childhood. Written in several self-contained chapters the work is more of a »novel in short stories«, and tells the tale of two half-sisters and thus of two branches of a Ghanaian family; one branch stays on the Gold Coast, today’s Ghana, while the other emigrates to the USA. Spanning several centuries, the narrative links each of the descendants of the family to a historical event, such as the introduction of cocoa as a crop in Ghana, the Anglo-Ashanti Wars with Great Britain in the 19th century and slavery and racial segregation in the USA. »Coming from a country, Ghana, that had a role in slavery, and then ending up in a place where slavery is still so strongly felt institutionally, as racism is still so strongly felt … I think, had I not grown up in Alabama, I don’t know that I would have ever written this book.«
Gyasi’s debut was highly praised by critics and received several awards, including the John Leonard Prize and the Debut Award of the National Book Critics Circle Award. The author lives in Berkeley, California.