In Yaa Gyasi’s ambitious epic, generations speak to each other through dreams, through patterns of behavior, through metaphysical attachments to land and legacy that miraculously survive banishment and erasure committed against and by the people of this book. Beginning with a child born in the midst of a fire in what is now Ghana, Homegoing tracks a bloodline split by the violence of slavery and bigotry, from its beginnings in the internecine warfare fueled by the British alliance with the Fante nation against the Asanti’s. While one sister is married to a British soldier and slaver and taken to live in Cape Coast Castle, a half sister she’s never met, is kept in the dungeon below with hundreds of others pitiful captives before being shipped off to bondage in America.

Gyasi’s achievement is in her expansive vision, her lyrical language, and her ability to create a complex and troubled biography of a bloodline that has suffered an enormous psychic wound. As one would expect, the book is riddled with the terrible injustices wrought upon the peoples of Africa by the slave trade, Jim Crow and beyond, but Gyasi doesn’t settle for a one-note narrative, as she goes well beyond familiar tropes of victimhood. Instead, she explores both the complicity in the slave trade of some African nations as well as the small triumphs and generational reclamations of dignity. Spirits and lives are sometimes broken under crushing despair and discrimination, but not irrevocably, as the story is not one individual’s but an entire clan’s. From cotton field to coal mine, Baltimore to Harlem, from Cape Coast Castle to Kumasi, the journey of this rivened bloodline follows a labyrinthine path back to the shores of Africa where their odyssey began and where two descendants, still carrying the subconscious wounds of their forbears, complete the round-trip journey as helpmates determined to live hopeful lives of their own making.

— Robin Cecil Hemley
2017 finalist judge

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Excerpt from the book

“What I know now, my son: Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes, so sometimes you cannot see that the evil in the world began as the evil in your own home. I’m sorry you have suffered. I’m sorry for the way your suffering casts a shadow over your life, over the woman you have yet to marry, the children you have yet to have.”

Yaw looked at her surprised, but she simply smiled. “When someone does wrong, whether it is you or me, whether it is mother or father, whether it is the Gold Coast man or the white man, it is like a fisherman casting a net into the water. He keeps only the one or two fish that he needs to feed himself and puts the rest in the water, thinking that their lives will go back to normal. No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free. But still, Yaw, you have to let yourself be free.”

2017 Fiction Runner-Up

Yaa Gyasi, photo credit Ian Douglas
Click to see award video

(Click photo to see acceptance speech at awards dinner.)

Yaa Gyasi

“Literature shows us the world as it truly is, but it also shows us the world as it could be—peaceful, empathetic, humane. It is literature that we so often turn to when we want to better understand each other, and I’m encouraged by the fact that people keep seeking this understanding. These days we are constantly confronted with our differences and we are urged to protect ourselves from “the other,” but one of the great powers of literature is not that it erases these difference, but rather that it highlights them in order to show us how complex we all are, how rich our world is because of this complexity. I am so honored to be recognized by the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Thank you.”

— Yaa Gyasi              


Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. She holds a BA in English from Stanford University and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she held a Dean’s Graduate Research Fellowship. She lives in Brooklyn.


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