The story behind alumna Yaa Gyasi’s “Homegoing”

In the July/August issue of Stanford magazine, writer SAM SCOTT tells the story of alumna YAA GYASI, whose remarkable book Homegoing will be featured as part of Stanford’s Three Books program during New Student Orientation.

Yaa Gyasi
Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing follows the lineage of two half-sisters born in different villages in Ghana and their descendants through eight generations. It details the troubling history of slavery on both sides of the Atlantic and the lasting impacts it had on those who were taken and those who were not.

The book has won numerous awards, including the NBCC’s John Leonard First Book Prize and NPR’s Debut Novel of the Year. It was also one of Oprah’s 10 favorite books of 2016 and a New York Times 2016 Notable Book.

Scott writes that Gyasi returned to her native Ghana after her sophomore year at Stanford to do research for a novel on a mother and daughter:

But her time in the Central Region where Gyasi’s mother had grown up hadn’t revealed much to base a book on. And she was facing the prospect of leaving with little to show for her efforts and ambition, or for the Stanford grant funding them.

Then a friend’s visit prompted a detour some 50 miles away to the Cape Coast Castle, an old British slave fort, where the inspiration that had been so elusive would suddenly blossom. Expecting solemnity but few surprises, Gyasi, ’11, was fascinated to learn British soldiers sometimes married local women, who lived in ease in the castle’s upper levels.

The realization only made it more jarring to descend into the fort’s still-rank dungeons, the suffocating, near lightless last stop for millions of captives before they passed through the “door of no return” and endured the horrors of the Middle Passage.

Buffeted by images of such wildly disparate fates unfolding floors apart, Gyasi’s mind began racing with ideas for a far more ambitious book than the one she’d been working on.

Read Scott’s story on Gyasi, her novel and the success she has enjoyed since the book’s publication in the pages of Stanford magazine.