Yaa Gyasi

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Yaa Gyasi
Born1989 (age 33–34)
Mampong, Ghana
EducationStanford University (BA)
University of Iowa (MFA)
Notable worksHomegoing (2016), Transcendent Kingdom (2020)
Notable awards

Yaa Gyasi (born 1989) is a Ghanaian-American novelist. Her debut novel Homegoing, published in 2016, won her, at the age of 26, the National Book Critics Circle's John Leonard Award for best first book, the PEN/Hemingway Award for a first book of fiction, the National Book Foundation's "5 under 35" honors for 2016 and the American Book Award. She was awarded a Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Literature in 2020.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Mampong, Ghana,[2] she is the daughter of Kwaku Gyasi, a professor of French at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and Sophia, who is a nurse.[3][4] Her family moved to the United States in 1991 when her father was completing his Ph.D. at Ohio State University.[2][5] The family also lived in Illinois and Tennessee, and from the age of 10, Gyasi was raised in Huntsville, Alabama.[2][6]

Gyasi recalls being shy as a child, feeling close to her brothers for their shared experiences as young immigrant children in Alabama, and turning to books as her "closest friends".[5] She was encouraged by receiving a certificate of achievement signed by LeVar Burton for the first story she wrote, which she had submitted to the Reading Rainbow Young Writers and Illustrators Contest. At the age of 17, while attending Grissom High School, Gyasi was inspired after reading Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon to pursue writing as a career.[5]

She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English at Stanford University, and a Master of Fine Arts from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, a creative writing program at the University of Iowa.[6][7]

As of 2016, Gyasi lived in Berkeley, California.[7][8]


Shortly after graduating from Stanford, she began her debut novel and worked at a startup company in San Francisco, but she did not enjoy the work and resigned after she was accepted to Iowa in 2012.[7]

Her debut novel Homegoing was inspired by a 2009 trip to Ghana, Gyasi's first since leaving the country as an infant. The novel was completed in 2015 and after initial readings from publishers, was met with numerous offers before she accepted a seven-figure advance from Knopf.[7] Ta-Nehisi Coates selected Homegoing for the National Book Foundation's 2016 "5 under 35" award,[6] and the novel also was selected for the National Book Critics Circle's John Leonard Award, the PEN/Hemingway award for best first book, and the American Book Award for contributions to diversity in American literature.[9][10][8][11]

Her writing has also appeared in such publications as African American Review,[12] Callaloo,[13] Guernica[14] The Guardian,[15] and Granta.[16]

Gyasi cites Toni Morrison (Song of Solomon), Gabriel García Márquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude), James Baldwin (Go Tell It on the Mountain), Edward P. Jones (Lost in the City), and Jhumpa Lahiri (Unaccustomed Earth) as inspirations.[5][7][17]

As of 2016, Gyasi lived in Berkeley, California.[7][8]

In 2017, Gyasi was chosen by Forbes for their 30 under 30 list.[18]

In February 2020, Knopf published Gyasi's second book Transcendent Kingdom.[19][20] Sara Collins of The Guardian described it as a "profound follow-up to Homegoing",[21] USA Today said "it's stealthily devastating",[22] and The Vox,[23] Chicago Review of Books,[24] and The New Republic[25] also reviewed it favorably. The book features characters from a short story titled "Inscape", that Gyasi published in Guernica magazine in 2015,[26] although the characters are in different situations.

In March 2021, she wrote an essay on "this question of 'the business of reading', of how we read, why we read, and what reading does for and to us." She wrote, "While I do devoutly believe in the power of literature to challenge, to deepen, to change, I also know that buying books by black authors is but a theoretical, grievously belated and utterly impoverished response to centuries of physical and emotional harm."[27]




  1. ^ a b "Yaa Gyasi". Vilcek Foundation. Retrieved February 3, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c Maloney, Jennifer (May 26, 2016). "Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Born in Ghana and Raised in the U.S." Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  3. ^ Anderson-Maples, Joyce (December 2, 2016). "UAH welcomes Yaa Gyasi, author of The New York Times best-selling book Homegoing". The University of Alabama in Huntsville. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  4. ^ Haskin, Shelly (August 28, 2016). "How an Alabama author's debut novel landed her on 'The Daily Show'". AL.com. Retrieved December 4, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d Begley, Sarah (June 5, 2016). "A 26-Year-old Looks to the Past for Her Literary Debut". TIME.com. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  6. ^ a b c "Yaa Gyasi, author of Homegoing, 5 Under 35, 2016, National Book Foundation". www.nationalbook.org. Archived from the original on December 3, 2016. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Wolfe, Eli (June 28, 2016). "How Yaa Gyasi found her story in slavers' outpost". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  8. ^ a b c "PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction". PEN New England. Retrieved April 23, 2017.
  9. ^ "Debut novelist among winners of American Book Awards". The Washington Times. Associated Press. August 4, 2017. ISSN 0190-8286.
  10. ^ Alter, Alexandra (January 17, 2017), "Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon Among National Book Critics Circle Finalists", The New York Times.
  11. ^ "100 Notable Books of 2016". The New York Times. November 21, 2016. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  12. ^ AAR African American Review.
  13. ^ "Yaa Gyasi", National Book Festival, Library of Congress.
  14. ^ Yaa Gyasi, "Inscape", Guernica, June 15, 2015.
  15. ^ "Yaa Gyasi: ‘I write a sentence. I delete it. I wonder if it’s too early for lunch’", The Guardian, October 28, 2017.
  16. ^ Gyasi, Yaa, "Leaving Gotham City", Granta 139: Best of Young American Novelists 3, April 25, 2017.
  17. ^ "Five books: The books that influenced Yaa Gyasi". Penguin. 2016. Archived from the original on January 30, 2018. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  18. ^ "30 Under 30 2017: Media". Forbes. Retrieved October 14, 2022.
  19. ^ "Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi". www.penguin.com.au. Retrieved October 27, 2023.
  20. ^ "Transcendent Kingdom". thankyoubookshop.com. Retrieved October 27, 2023.
  21. ^ Collins, Sara (February 24, 2021). "Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi review – a profound follow-up to Homegoing". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved October 27, 2023.
  22. ^ VanDenburgh, Barbara. "Review: Yaa Gyasi's 'Transcendent Kingdom' a profound story of faith, addiction and loss". USA TODAY. Retrieved October 27, 2023.
  23. ^ Grady, Constance (September 9, 2020). "In the lovely new novel Transcendent Kingdom, a neuroscientist searches for the soul". Vox. Retrieved October 27, 2023.
  24. ^ "Generational Trauma and Reconciliation in Transcendent Kingdom". Chicago Review of Books. September 10, 2020. Retrieved October 27, 2023.
  25. ^ Wilson, Jennifer (November 6, 2020). "Yaa Gyasi Versus the Identity Trap". The New Republic. ISSN 0028-6583. Retrieved October 27, 2023.
  26. ^ Gyasi, Yaa (June 15, 2015). "Inscape". Guernica. Retrieved October 27, 2023.
  27. ^ Gyasi, Yaa (March 20, 2021). "White people, black authors are not your medicine". the Guardian. Retrieved March 21, 2021.
  28. ^ Admin (March 16, 2017). "National Book Critics Circle: National Book Critics Circle Announces 2016 Award Winners - Critical Mass Blog". bookcritics.org. Archived from the original on March 17, 2017. Retrieved February 9, 2019.
  29. ^ "5 Under 35 2016". National Book Foundation. Retrieved May 15, 2022.
  30. ^ "2017 American Book Awards announced". Before Columbus Foundation. Archived from the original on February 9, 2019. Retrieved February 9, 2019.
  31. ^ Kellogg, Carolyn, and Michael Schaub (April 26, 2017), "Granta names 21 of the best young American novelists" Archived September 24, 2019, at the Wayback Machine, The Los Angeles Times.
  32. ^ "Granta’s list of the best young American novelists", The Guardian, April 26, 2017.
  33. ^ Onwuemezi, Natasha (April 26, 2017), "Granta reveals its Best of Young US Novelists 2017", The Bookseller.
  34. ^ Catan, Wayne (May 31, 2017). "Interview with Yaa Gyasi, 2017 PEN/Hemingway Award Winner". www.hemingwaysociety.org. The Hemingway Society. Retrieved February 9, 2019.
  35. ^ Flood, Alison (April 29, 2021). "Women's prize for fiction shortlist entirely first-time nominees". the Guardian. Retrieved April 29, 2021.

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