Annual speaker series kicks off with prizewinning author Yaa Gyasi

Christine Burke

NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, NY – Last night writer Yaa Gyasi, author of the acclaimed novel “Homegoing,” visited the NU campus to give a speech about her book.

The novel is a generational tale beginning with two sisters in Ghana during the slave trade, one a slave in the basement of a castle and the other the wife of a British man upstairs. “Homegoing” follows the sisters’ descendants up until the present day, exploring different facets of race and black history throughout the decades.

Gyasi described experiences throughout her life that led her to write her novel, including her struggle with tying her Ghanaian roots with her American surroundings. She focused her speech around the story of a tour she took of the Cape Coast castle in Ghana, which she said shaped the idea of her novel into what it became.

“I hoped to honor the many Gold Coast women who had passed through the castle,” she said. “Death can’t be washed away from those walls.”

Gyasi said that she wanted to write about why and how we learn what we learn, as well as the way we see power in the West.

“My task was to see around the text to figure out what perspective was being left off the table,” Gyasi said about the struggles she encountered in her research. “We forget these powerful peoples that existed in these places and had their stories rewritten.”

Gyasi said that she hopes her novel can influence education in the future. “I was frustrated that I had never learned this stuff,” she said. “I don’t think I quite understood how connected these little moments were . . . The more I wrote about and studied the past the more concerned I became about our present, and the more I thought about the present the more I realized that it is inextricably tied to our past.”

One piece of advice Gyasi gave for aspiring writers is to read. “Reading is the purest, truest way of learning,” she said.

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