Author Yaa Gyasi’s family left Ghana to the United States when she was 2, but it wasn’t until she was 9 and her family moved to Huntsville, Alabama, that she began to feel like she didn’t fit in.
“In every other place that we had lived, there was a decent sized West African immigrant community,” Gyasi says. “But when we got to Huntsville, there was, like, one other family in Meridianville that was Ghanaian and that was it.”
As a student in a majority white school, Gyasi didn’t learn much about the history of Black people in America. “I felt this kind of disconnect from [the Black] community as well,” she says.
Race and belonging would become central themes in her work. Her 2016 debut novel, Homegoing, opens in Ghana in the 1700s and explores the legacy of slavery from the perspective of several generations of the same family.
Transcendent Kingdom, her new novel, draws on Gyasi’s life as the daughter of immigrants from Ghana. The main character, a Ghanaian American scientist named Gifty, belongs to the Pentecostal church and struggles to understand how she is perceived by both white and Black Americans.
For Gyasi, the new novel feels particularly personal: “I was writing about the places that I knew best, particularly Huntsville, Ala., the place that I grew up in, and I was also writing about religion, which was a big part of my life and my childhood. … It was an opportunity, I think, for me to revisit that time in my life.”
Yaa Gyasi’s first novel, Homegoing, won a National Book Critics Circle Award and a PEN/Hemingway Award. Her latest is Transcendent Kingdom.
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