Stanford alum’s debut novel gets National Book Critics recognition

Yaa Gyasi
Yaa Gyasi

The reaction on YAA GYASI‘s Facebook page to the news that her debut novel Homegoing  was the 2016 recipient of the National Book Critic Circle’s John Leonard Prize was swift: 379 likes; 22 comments; and 19 shares. And that was before dawn.

The John Leonard Prize was established to recognize outstanding first books in any genre. National Book Critics Circle honors are arguably one of the most prestigious awards in the publishing industry.

Gyasi ’11 was a sophomore English major when she obtained the Chappell-Lougee grant that sent her to Africa. That trip sparked her literary quest.

In 2016, during a visit to Stanford, Gyasi told an audience at the Stanford Women’s Community Center that the narrative she Homegoingconstructed over the following years, first at Stanford, then at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, is an account of slavery’s legacy, stretched over eight generations and two countries.

Homegoing’s plot even takes place in the familiar confines of the Stanford campus, she told the audience. In Green Library’s Lane Reading Room, the character Marcus, a graduate student struggling with a thesis topic, has an epiphany that ties together the themes of the book.

One reviewer said Gyasi’s Homegoing gave “rare and heroic voice to the missing and suppressed.”

Also recognized by the National Book Critics Circle for 2016 was Robert Pinsky, the former U.S. Poet Laureate who is currently the Mohr Visiting Poet at Stanford. Pinksy is a finalist in the poetry category for his book At the Foundling Hospital. Pinsky will be giving a reading of his work on Wednesday, Jan 25, at 8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Watch Yaa Gyasi interviewed by Tavis Smiley