A rich family saga from Africa to America
This is a stunning debut on an epic level! In her own unique voice, writer Yaa Gyasi today with "Homegoing" has accomplished what Alex Haley did with Roots in 1976. This sprawling historical novel takes readers from 18th century Africa through contemporary Harlem. Generations of families endure tribal wars in their native land, the middle passage, enslavement, post-Civil War racism, and Northern migration. The characters and storylines twist and turn, back and forth from countries in Africa and America. Starting with two half sisters, Effia and Esi, born into different villages. One is married off to an Englishman living in the comfort of a castle on the Cape Coast. The other is imprisoned below the castle and eventually whisked away to America where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. Gyasi’s research is thorough, her attention to detail undeniable and her finesse with characterizations and prose are affecting.
Esi had been in the women’s dungeon of the Cape Coast Castle for two weeks. She spent her fifteenth birthday there. On her fourteenth birthday, she was in the heart of Asanteland, in her father’s, Big Man’s, compound. He was the best warrior in the village, so everyone had come to pay their respects to the daughter who grew more beautiful with each passing day... Esi learned to split her life into Before the Castle and Now. Before the Castle, she was the daughter of Big Man. Now she was dust. Before the Castle, she was the prettiest girl in the village. Now she was thin air.
One cannot overstate what a literary undertaking Gyasi has accomplished, exploring individuals one generation at a time. They are heroes and heroines of each era. They are victims of their times, with no recourse. Gyasi managed to tackle this project on an expansive scale, with broad strokes, yet at the same time she also successfully created a sense of immediacy and intimacy. And she does so with aplomb. Because of the historical span and the plethora of characters, readers are, thankfully, furnished with family tree diagram in the preface, and most to be sure, will make good use of it throughout. "Homegoing" is a unique and inspiring literary adventure by a talented young writer with a long future before her.
Berkeley, California-based Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. Since Homegoing’s 2016 debut, she has amassed numerous awards for fiction.
From the author of How to Raise an Adult, comes a fearless memoir of growing up a biracial black woman in America.
"Real American" Is a brutally honest personal account of how racism negatively permeated Julie Lythcott-Haims’s psyche and life, from childhood through adulthood. She further presents a case of how her story of suffering the effects of racism is not hers alone, but in many ways is reflective of what all people of color in America encounter and endure as well. The only child of a second marriage to her African-American father and her white British mother, Lythcott-Haims grew up in the 70s, looking more black than white with defining crown of kinky, curly hair. The family lived in several areas of the United States, including suburban New York, Virginia and Wisconsin. All were predominantly, if not entirely, white communities that were challenging for her to integrate into. She always felt isolated. She always felt like the other. She also was very aware as to how differently society regarded her father in contrast to her mother. This despite the fact that her father was an educated and accomplished academic that went on to work in the Carter administration. Despite the financial privilege her father’s success afforded her, the microaggressions she personally endured created low self-esteem that was a hard fought battle to dig out from. Throughout the memoir are unsettling intimate recollections like the following:
I accepted an offer of admission to Stanford University. A classmate, Harris, had applied to Stanford but had not gotten in... One day right after the bell rang signaling the end of class, Harris’s father walked in, sat down next to my desk, and began talking to me in a playful tone. “Sooo, you got into Stanford?”
I looked up at my friend Harris and silently asked, Why is your dad her? Then I replied. “Yes.”
“So, what were your SAT scores?”
“Do you think it’s fair that you got into Stanford over Harris when his scores were higher than that?”
Harris was not the president o the student council. Our grades were roughly the same. But I had stolen his spot at Stanford with my Blackness.
“Real American” is set up in chapters reflective of stages of her life and rapidly changing mindset. The titles range from earlier ones, like “An American Childhood” and “Becoming the Other,” to latter ones in more recent years, like “Declaring” and “Black Lives Matter.” By the second half of her story, Lythcott-Haims is not only professionally successful and personally confident, with a law degree working as a Stanford dean, she is a definitive source of encouragement to the minority students she shepherds through white established academia. She is also a mom to two bi-racial children of her own who she worries will also have a challenging time navigating through all white communities and racism that continues to run through America’s blood.
In December 2016 the prosecution of a white North Charleston, South Carolina police officer accused of shooting an unarmed Black man in the back ends in a mistrial. The officer shot Walter Scott in the back as Scott was running away and planted his taser next to Scott’s body, claiming he had stolen it from him. All this was caught on video. But one juror could not see... Dear America, What would you have me tell my son? Don’t drive, son? Don’t go to Walgreens, son? Don’t be ... What. Don’t be?
Despite the poignant, sometimes intense, topics addressed in "Real American," the format is decidedly approachable. Some chapters are as short as a few pages or a few paragraphs. Some read as poetry or as a journal entry. While on one hand it is in chronological order, on the other her stories seem stand-alone, vignette-like. You can read in order of beginning, middle and end, or you can land on any page at any time and comprehend, enjoy, be inspired.
Special Note: As awe-inspiring and life-affirming as it is to read "Real American," it is flat out life-changing to hear Julie Lythcott-Haims tell her story. If you ever get an opportunity to go to a lecture or reading by her, grab it! She is one of the most dynamic speakers out there, a writer to be heard, in addition to read.
Empowerment by Design - Women at the Intersection of Creativity and Success
Somewhere in between a traditional sized coffee table book and your average hardbound book there are a class of books that blur the lines, although officially just considered hardbound (that will never be released in paperback). One of the best recent examples of such a book is In the Company of Women by Grace Bonney, creator of Design Sponge. In it, Bonney has a collection of interviews (Q&A) with creative female businesswomen, or as the subtitle reads, “Inspiration and Advice from Over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs.” The 350 page book is imbued with color and creativity, striking photographs, and savvy responses to a set of questions sure to inspire artistic-wanna-bes or any interested reader. Like a breath of publication fresh air, the book is a beacon of diversity. It refreshingly features women, photographed in their work spaces, varying in age, race, geographic location and professions. Some are designers, some writers, musicians, artists, actors and producers, etc. Some, like Nikki Giavonni and Carrie Brownstein, are well-known, while others, like Diana Yen and Amina Mucciolo are little-known, but they are all accomplished and admirable. Bonney explains that her goal with the book was straight-forward and a natural result after 12 years of producing Design Sponge.
“My goal with In the Company of Women is to provide motivating and relatable examples of all kinds of women running their own businesses, so that any woman, anywhere can open up to a page and see herself reflected... In the Company of Women highlights over one hundred of the most talented women I know. The women in the book are shining examples of what we can become if we work hard and support one another.”
The book itself contains no prose other than in the introduction, yet there’s plenty to read, with all the women answering questions such as “What did you want to be when you were a child?” or “What does success mean to you?” It’s easy and inspiring to read through the interviews, and the photos are like eye candy. It serves both as motivation and confirmation. It’s a great sort of resource for your own space/office, or to gift for that creative woman in your life.