Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah

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Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah
Ghansah at the 2018 Pulitzer Prizes
Ghansah at the 2018 Pulitzer Prizes
EducationColumbia University
The Uncollected Works of RKG

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah (born 1982) is an American award-winning essayist. She won a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2018 for her profile of white supremacist and mass murderer Dylann Roof, as well as a National Magazine Award. She was also a National Magazine Award finalist in 2014 for her profile of elusive comedian Dave Chappelle. Her first book, The Explainers and the Explorers, is forthcoming from Random House[1].

Early life[edit]

Ghansah grew up in Philadelphia. She attended Greene Street Friends School. [2] Her mother's family is from Louisiana, and her father's family is from Ghana.[3]


Early career and education[edit]

Early in her career, Ghansah worked for Rich Nichols and The Roots[4] as well as dream hampton before becoming a public school teacher.[3] She was the first African-American intern at Harper's Magazine.[5] She graduated from Columbia University's MFA program in writing in 2011,[6] and has taught at Columbia University, Bard College, and Eugene Lang College.


Ghansah has drawn particular recognition for her longform profiles of subjects such as Kendrick Lamar, Missy Elliott,[7][8] Jean-Michel Basquiat,[9] Chirlane McCray,[10] and Toni Morrison[11]—which Flavorwire recommended as "necessary, even recuperative"[12]—as well as essays on Beyoncé's fans,[13][14] Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios,[15] and James Baldwin's historic home in southern France.[16]

Her Baldwin essay was anthologized in The Best American Essays series for 2017[17] as well as the 2016 Baldwin-inspired collection, The Fire This Time; in The New York Times, Dwight Garner described Ghansah's contribution as "alive with purpose, conviction, and intellect" and one of the "five excellent reasons to buy this book."[18] In a review of that same collection for New York Review of Books, Darryl Pinckney, wrote that, "Baldwin didn’t want to be [Richard] Wright’s heir, any more than Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah wanted to be Baldwin’s."[19]

Her writing has earned praise from The Atlantic,[20] The New Yorker,[21] and Brooklyn Magazine whose editors wrote that "if we wanted to compile a reading list of the best journalism in the last couple of years, we’d begin with basically all the work of Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah."[22] KQED has called Ghansah "one of the most brilliant essayists writing in America today."[23] Longreads described her as being "an unparalleled architect of the profile. She can strike an ideal balance between scene and exposition, lyricism and plot. She can bring a subject to life with fresh insight, and keep herself in the narrative in a way that is unobtrusive and necessary."[24] And in a 2016 Elle UK feature, "Zadie Smith On The Young Writer Who Teaches Her Everything," novelist Smith said Ghansah "always understood that to make your writing stand out online you just need to write better than everyone else. And she does."[25]

In 2014, Ghansah's profile in The Believer of elusive comedian Dave Chappelle[26] was a National Magazine Award finalist[27] and collected in 2014 edition of The Best American Nonrequired Reading[28] as well as The Believer's anthology Read Harder (2014). Writing in the New York Times, Evan Hughes reviewed her essay's appearance in that collection as "more forceful work ... [a] searching profile."[29] New York called her Chappelle essay a "classic."[30] The critic Stephanie Fields later wrote that, those early "profiles established not only her nuanced style of long form writing with extensive bibliographies, but a context for black art and black life. A consistent theme of Ghansah’s work is how black artists have shaped their own narratives through an exertion of autonomy not usually afforded to black people. She then weaves those threads of resistance into the larger tapestry of black history."[31]

For the MoMA, in 2018, Ghansah curated a PopRally event entitled "Woman's Work" a celebration of black womanhood and black female genius that featured the work of Julie Dash, Kandis Williams, and dream hampton, music from Helado Negro, readings from Greg Tate, Saeed Jones, Darryl Pinckney, and a performance from Steffani Jemison and Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts as FORT. [32][33]

In 2019, Ghansah was a recipient of the American Mosaic Journalism Prize, an unrestricted cash prize of $100,000, awarded by the Heising-Simons Foundation for her "deeply reported and essayistic writing pushes the form of longform journalism, ranging from a poignant profile of master painter Henry Taylor to a searing exposé of the hotbed of racism and white supremacy that fueled the heinous murder of nine African-Americans in Charleston, South Carolina. Her power of observation and nuanced writing both shines light on Black Americans and dares us to look at the forces that shape race in America.” [34][35]

Pulitzer Prize[edit]

In the fall of 2016, Ghansah spent three months in Charleston, South Carolina covering the federal trial of Dylann Roof for GQ.[36] Her reporting on the making of Dylann Roof and the rise of white nationalist violence was described by the Columbia Journalism Review to be "deserving of all the praise it is getting" and a demonstration of "what apex reporting on the white supremacy beat would look like."[37] In The Guardian, Jessica Valenti praised the essay for being "an incredible piece of reporting."[38] Kevin Sack, writing in The New York Times, called the piece "expansive and intimate", saying "Ghansah guides us through what is known of the life this young man who remains 'safeguarded by his knowledge that white American terrorism is never waterboarded for answers.'"[39]

In 2018, this piece and her profile of Missy Elliott were both selected as finalists for the National Magazine Awards, with the GQ story winning the award for best feature.[40][41] The GQ story won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.[42] "For an unforgettable portrait of murderer Dylann Roof, using a unique and powerful mix of reportage, first-person reflection and analysis of the historical and cultural forces behind his killing of nine people inside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C."[43] However, Adam Lankford, a criminology and criminal justice professor at the University of Alabama who researches mass shootings, said he respects Ghansah and her skillful work, since in-depth investigations like this story can help academics find patterns and make antidotes to America’s mass shooting epidemic, but he also wishes Ghansah knew how dangerous it is to publish mass shooters’ names and photos.[44]

The Explainers and the Explorers[edit]

Ghansah is at work on her first book, The Explainers and the Explorers.[45] Examining "how black America will define itself in the 21st century",[46] the book is expected to be published in the U.S. by Random House.

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ www.publishersweekly.com https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/book-deals/article/83396-book-deals-week-of-may-25-2020.html. Retrieved May 29, 2020. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ "Greene Street Friends School Alumni, 5511 Greene St, Philadelphia, PA (2019)". www.schoolandcollegelistings.com. Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  3. ^ a b Rasheed, Kameelah Janan (June 7, 2014). "Stakes Is High—and Black Lives Are Worthy of Elaboration". Gawker. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  4. ^ Karaslamb (2016). "Zadie Smith Cosigns Rich Nichols' Protege Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah". OkayPlayer. Retrieved May 28, 2017.
  5. ^ Garner, Dwight (August 16, 2016). "Review: 'The Fire This Time,' Stoked by Baldwin's Legacy". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  6. ^ "2014 A Good Year for Writing Faculty, Alumni, Students". arts.columbia.edu.
  7. ^ Suskind, Alex. "The Missy Elliott Renaissance Is Here". Vulture. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  8. ^ McDuffie, Candace (July 13, 2017). "Missy Elliott's Style Brought Black Women Together". Racked. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  9. ^ "De origine actibusque aequationis". The Rumpus.net. November 26, 2013. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  10. ^ Allen, Mike (February 9, 2016). "D.C.'S DOUBLE HEADER: 100TH New Hampshire primary, and Budget Day! – FIRST WINS for Trump and Sanders, or shock upsets? – MARCO ROBOTO strikes AGAIN -- SHAUN DONOVAN: Obama determined 'to run through the tape". Politico. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  11. ^ McFadden, Syreeta (December 31, 2015). "Black memoir in 2015: the year America broadened its canon". The Guardian. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  12. ^ Sturgeon, Jonathan (April 16, 2015). "Toni Morrison Is Not Your Grandmother: On the Explosive, Alienating 'God Help the Child'". Flavorwire. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  13. ^ Demby, Gene (April 25, 2016). "Before Diving Into The Raging Flood Of New Beyoncé Thinkpieces, Read This". NPR. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  14. ^ RJ, Doctor (April 25, 2016). "Beyoncé's 'Lemonade' is both personal and political". Daily Kos. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  15. ^ McKnight, Matthew (January 17, 2015). "Weekend Reading: Marriage and Mental Illness, Electric Lady, and More". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  16. ^ Nechvatal, Joseph (March 23, 2016). "James Baldwin's Longtime Home in Southern France Faces Demolition". Hyperallergic. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  17. ^ Jamison, Leslie; Atwan, Robert (October 3, 2017). The Best American Essays 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9780544817425.
  18. ^ Garner, Dwight (August 16, 2016). "Review: 'The Fire This Time,' Stoked by Baldwin's Legacy". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  19. ^ Pinckney, Darryl (May 25, 2017). "Catching Up to James Baldwin". The New York Review of Books. ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  20. ^ "Slightly More Than 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism". The Atlantic. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  21. ^ Fromson, Daniel (October 4, 2013). "Weekend Reading: The Elvis Impersonator and the Karate Instructor, the Real Harry Potter". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  22. ^ "The 100 Most Influential People in Brooklyn Culture - Brooklyn Magazine". Brooklyn Magazine. March 1, 2016. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  23. ^ Clark, Leilani (March 20, 2016). "Earthquakes, Bombs, and Baldwin: Lit Picks for March 22 – April 3". KQED. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  24. ^ Jackson, Danielle (September 15, 2017). "The Mastery and Magic of Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah". Longreads. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  25. ^ "Zadie Smith On The Young Writer Who Teaches Her Everything". Elle UK. June 12, 2016.
  26. ^ Green, Elon (October 7, 2014). "Annotation Tuesday! Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah and 'If He Hollers Let Him Go'". nieman.harvard.edu.
  27. ^ "National Magazine Awards 2014 Finalists Announced | ASME". www.magazine.org.
  28. ^ a b Handler, Daniel; et al. (2014). The best American nonrequired reading 2014. ISBN 9780544129665.
  29. ^ Hughes, Evan (December 4, 2014). "New Collections From The New Republic, The Baffler and Others". The New York Times. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  30. ^ Fox, Jesse David. "Chappelle Tries to Tackle Trump and Trans Issues at RCMH. He Doesn't Succeed". Vulture. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  31. ^ "Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah and the Necessity of the Black Woman Critic". blavity.com. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  32. ^ "PopRally Presents Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah: A Woman's Work". www.moma.org. Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  33. ^ "A Celebration of Black Female Creativity with Pulitzer-Winner Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah". Hyperallergic. April 25, 2018. Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  34. ^ "American Mosaic Journalism Prize Awarded to Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah and Abe Streep". Heising-Simons Foundation. February 4, 2019. Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  35. ^ Lewis, Sarah; Gaines, Charles; Smith, Zadie; Ghansah, Rachel Kaadzi. "Henry Taylor". Rizzoli New York. Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  36. ^ Ghansah, Rachel Kaadzi (August 21, 2017). "A Most American Terrorist: The Making Of Dylann Roof". GQ. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  37. ^ Vernon, Pete (August 22, 2017). "The media today: In search of the white supremacy beat". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  38. ^ Valenti, Jessica (August 25, 2017). "The week in patriarchy: it's easy to feel overwhelmed and paralyzed". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  39. ^ Kannapell, Andrea (August 25, 2017). "What We're Reading". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  40. ^ "Ellies 2018 finalists announced | ASME". www.magazine.org. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  41. ^ "2018 ASME winners".
  42. ^ "Pulitzer Prizes: Here are the 2018 Winners". New York Times. April 16, 2018. Retrieved April 16, 2018.
  43. ^ "The 2018 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Feature Writing". Pulitzer. Retrieved April 16, 2018.
  44. ^ Angela Morris (January 7, 2019). "Do Journalists Deserve Some Blame for America's Mass Shootings?". Editor & Publisher. Retrieved March 3, 2020.
  45. ^ Hartman, Liz (March 25, 2016). "London Briefcase 2016: What U.S. Agencies Will be Selling at the London Book Fair". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  46. ^ "Publishers Marketplace Newsletters - Publishers Lunch Deluxe". FreshPickedDeals.
  47. ^ "He Shall Overcome: Jay-Z Is $450 M Beyond the Marcy Projects. Where Does He Go From Here?". Observer. December 1, 2010. Retrieved June 17, 2016.
  48. ^ Ghansah, Rachel Kaadzi (October 1, 2013). "If He Hollers Let Him Go". The Believer. Retrieved June 26, 2016.
  49. ^ Ghansah, Rachel Kaadzi (January 31, 2013). "When the Lights Shut Off: Kendrick Lamar and the Decline of the Black Blues Narrative". Los Angeles Review of Books.
  50. ^ Ghansah, Rachel Kaadzi (March 17, 2014). "How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You: The BeyHive". NPR.org.
  51. ^ Ghansah, Rachel Kaadzi (February 9, 2016). "Chirlane McCray and the Limits of First-Ladyship". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 17, 2016.
  52. ^ Ghansah, Rachel Kaadzi (January 1, 2015). "A River Runs Through It". The Believer. Retrieved June 17, 2016.
  53. ^ Ghansah, Rachel Kaadzi (April 8, 2015). "The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison". The New York Times.
  54. ^ Ghansah, Rachel Kaadzi (February 29, 2016). "The Weight Of James Arthur Baldwin". BuzzFeed. Retrieved June 17, 2016.
  55. ^ Ward, Jesmyn (August 2, 2016). The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9781501126345.
  56. ^ Jamison, Leslie; Atwan, Robert (October 3, 2017). The Best American Essays 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9780544817425.
  57. ^ Ghansah, Rachel Kaadzi (May 15, 2017). "How Missy Elliott Became an Icon". Elle. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  58. ^ Ghansah, Rachel Kaadzi (August 21, 2017). "A Most American Terrorist: The Making Of Dylann Roof". GQ. Retrieved November 21, 2017.

External links[edit]