Yaa Gyasi: "Homegoing: A Novel" | Talks at Google



hello and thank you all for coming I'd like to welcome you on behalf of the Africans at Google and BGN and I feel very honored to be here in two houses rather unique event for Google my name is Marianne croak and I'm a VP in the next billion users organization and – and I will be moving into Sree so before we get started I just want to give you a couple of announcements right after the event right across the opposite flight cafe will be 23andme ancestry kits and therefore Googlers who are interested in their origins and especially those of African descent who in line with the story you're about to hear want to know more about where they may have descended from so that's one thing second thing and maybe more importantly is also right outside will be books homecoming books and you'll hear more about the story from yah but you can buy them and she will be available for signing them and the first 100 Googlers who sign up or who line up for the books will receive one for free so you have to be quick but anyway I want to tell you just I I was fortunate enough to read the story it's beautifully written it's very painful to read so from times I would actually have to put it aside but it's a story that needs to be told and I think all of us need to read it it helps to understand the underpinnings of the racial complexity and the times that we are living through now so I would encourage all of you to read it and I want to tell you a bit about the author yah Jessie who's going to join us on stage in a few minutes she is originally from Ghana and she's a Stanford alum and she also graduated from the Iowa it's very esteemed the Iowa Writers Program so we're honored to have her here and blessed to have her here her book tells the story of two sisters apphia and Essie and they grew up during the 18th century in Ghana and they lived in two different villages and apphia is married off to an Englishman and lives in a very palatial castle but right below her is her sister and her sister lives in a dungeon right below this castle and this is where women it's a women's dungeon of course AFI had one for nails and she's imprisoned in this dungeon and is eventually given over to people that put her on a ship and send her off to America to be sold into slavery and this book this beautifully written book tells the story of these two sisters and their descendants over a 300 year period so go through the wars in Ghana over slavery it then takes us to the war in America over slavery to the coal mines in the deep south where many of the freed slaves had to work and then to the great migration north and to the 20th century Renaissance in Harlem to the present day and it's an amazing amazing journey and I think we're still on that journey as you know but I would encourage you all to please read the book because it really helps give you insight into what's going on inside ourselves and inside this country and across the world joining y'all on the stage will be two Googlers who are descendants of African origin and one is bash and he shares the same lineage as apphia and the next one is Canada and she shares the lineage of Essie and they will join y'all in a conversation and you're all invited to participate in that conversation as well so please join me and welcome them to the stage [Applause] hi everyone it's so exciting to see this room almost full very excited about that thanks to everyone for coming and I'm so excited to see I told as she walked up early I was like okay I think I'm a little star-struck you know just before we get into the conversation everyone's excited to have about the book I think it's important for us to just learn more about yeah so that's actually where we're going to get started can you give us a little bit more context about yourself you know you moved here when you're little to Huntsville Alabama but tell us a little bit about the story of yeah and so I was born in Ghana in Munhall and then my family moved when I was two to America and we first moved to Ohio my father was getting his PhD at Ohio State in French he's a French professor and then kind of as he was looking for a tenure track job we moved a lot so we've lived in Ohio first and then Illinois Tennessee and then Alabama and we moved to Alabama when I was nine and I stayed there until 18 when I left to come to Stanford and then after that I took a year off between college and grad school and I went to graduate school at the University of Iowa and at the Writers Workshop which is where I wrote most of homegoing amazing yeah thank you thank you go yeah I'm just thrilled to be up here with you so thank you again yes so I think between bash and I we have probably seen every interview you've done every article about you and read a few of the articles you've written yourself and so we know that you've wanted to be a writer since you were young we're curious what is it that you would be doing if you weren't a writer oh man I don't know what I would be doing if I weren't a writer I really hadn't thought of any other career that I wanted to do I mean I sang growing up I actually one of the people that I used to sing with is in this room Adams Eaton and so I think for a brief period of time I thought that I wanted to be a singer but that felt like completely unattainable and if you can believe that writing felt like the more stable career to go for so so that's what I decided not the startup that you worked at no so when we saw that we were like well Google's kind of a start-up ish with 70,000 people very gentle trying to preserve that startup culture but I know that you were to startup for those of you who don't know I think like with it right after college is right after college okay and it doesn't sound like that worked out was just curious new and I like went into it knowing that I was just taking a year off between college and grad school so I wasn't I didn't feel like I was there to stay and I think I only ended up being there for eight months and I lasted and started working and on the writing that I would be doing once I got to graduate school also for anyone in the room that's familiar with African pen and writing sounds like very hard sells like I think my mom has been here but I shouldn't say oh I didn't felt like I had three officers great help out there'll be a doctor and in territory that's it yeah so how how does that go about at home it didn't go over well I mean I have to say my parents encouraged me in that you know my dad's a professor and he teaches French and francophone African literature and so books were always in our house and a part of our lives and reading was always a part of my life and so that part wasn't really a surprise to them at all but then suddenly I think when I started to vocalize that it was what I wanted to do with my life was become a writer I faced some resistance I would say and really I think freshman year of college was when it kind of came to a head I think I was like fighting with my mom basically every day about what I wanted to do with my life and what I wanted to be which I understand you know you you come to America you sacrifice so much and you've made this like very deep investment in your and your children and so if they tell you that they you know they don't they don't think that this passes that you've kind of started them on is the one that's that they want to go on themselves I think it can be really scary for them but now they both have amnesia about that whole Pierre yeah so what was what was the tipping point I think there's a lot of wonderfully talented folks in the room that may be passionate about writing or singing or doing something what was the tipping point to help gain that I support from from family stop the fighting especially um I mean it was it was really just kind of saying that there was nothing else that I wanted to do I think once in part once I saw how unhappy I had been in any other kind of path and that start up I think that they realized that that I was very serious when I said that this was what I wanted to do and and started to kind of take me seriously at that point but you do have to kind of I guess be willing to say this is the line and I am NOT going to cross it you know it's either you can come with me on this journey or or not and that's kind of hard to that's hard to do when you're when you're young and still kind of feeling out whether or not you can make it and in the world of art which is a difficult difficult world to get your feet in perfect so to quote someone who shall remain nameless I heard someone say yeah there's always on fleek and I agree I agree and I was just curious you know as an african-american woman I think we always grapple with you know how am I going to wear my hair am I going to wear it straight am I going to wear it natural if I wear it natural you know what what am I going to do with it and how are people going to receive it treats about your inspiration behind the different hairstyles that you have oh I've never gotten that question before I went natural about three years ago I guess and I'm one of those people who had never seen her natural hair like my mom slapped a relaxer into my hair when I was like five and so I didn't even know I didn't even know what my hair looked like growing out of my head and so I think I was just in graduate school and I felt like I had the time to figure out how to take care of it myself and so I just chopped it all off and started and started this natural hair journey I don't know if I have inspirations for my hair style at this point I'm traveling so much but it's just whatever is easy and fast and will kind of last me a long time I do it about once a week I wash it and twist it out and that's that's all that I do I think we can all relate to that yeah and you know add on to that anybody who's been at Google long enough knows about every maybe every month there's an email that goes out to the black Googler Network egn that says hey I just moved to the Bay Area we're gonna get my hair done yeah if you want to share if you having a good spot the bay area that you'd like to recommend and give a shout out to we welcome that no I can't remember where I used to get my hair done when I was in college but I definitely sent that email a few times I think I would even like you know kind of look up pictures of people whose hair I like on campus and then fight like email them and ask where they've been getting their hair done yeah it's kind of a desperate situation out here Thanks I love that targeting really start doing outreach and I get that list with the pictures um let's switch gears for a sec and dive into the book tell us a little bit about the exploration where this started you went back home sophomore year yeah it's are a little bit more about that yeah so when I was at Stanford my sophomore year I received a fellowship called the chapel uji and they give it to sophomore students to complete a research or creative based project the summer between sophomore and junior year and I knew that I wanted to use mine in order to research a novel and initially I had a different idea in my I thought I wanted to write a book about a mother and her daughter and so I thought it would be nice to go to my own mother's hometown which is avec rumba in the in the central region of Ghana and just kind of see if anything struck me if any inspiration happened which is not the right way to to approach accepting a large sum of money to do research but thankfully a friends came to visit and we ended up going to the Kapus castle and it was my first time there and kind of my first time really interacting with it in any way I hadn't really thought about it before it was while at the castle that I took the tour and it was a really kind of popular tour at that point because Obama's family had just been there I think a week before me so a lot of people were kind of flocking to the to the castle and the tour guide kind of just took us around and he started to talk to us about how the British soldiers who lived and works in the castle used to marry the local Gunny and women which was something I had never heard before and really fascinated me and I wondered about the lives of those women and how they could possibly kind of be you know walking around free above these captives because the next thing that the tour guide did is what's to take us down into the into the dungeons and I don't know if they do this in every tour but they they close the door so you can see how dark and how small it is and it's just like a little little ring of light and and so I just was immediately struck by that juxtaposition the idea of this Upstairs Downstairs thing and I knew immediately that I wanted to write about that place in some capacity I didn't exactly know what it would look like or how long it would take or anything like that I just I think it was maybe the first time in my writing life where I felt anything like a stroke of inspiration I just knew that I wanted to write about this place well yeah so Marian gave us a lovely I think set up and overview of the book but I want to dig a little bit deeper and set up the context for us tell us a little bit about what was going on in history at the start of the book and so the book starts with these two half-sisters Afiya and a sea and Thea is born into this spongy village and she she's kind of the daughter of a relatively powerful man not an incredibly powerful man but her village chief decides that their village is going to become a part of a part of facilitating the slave trade so they're going to kind of be a stop on this on this road from the inland to to the coast and meanwhile her family's also thinking about who to marry her to because she's coming of age and they ultimately end up more or less giving her away in this in this marriage to the British governor of the cape coast castle which was the kind of seat of British colonial power and Ghana during that time period and so she ends up moving to the castle living there you know seems like she has a relatively good life loves her husband left her kid but at the same time is somewhat aware of something very nefarious that is happening below her which is sa story I see the second half sister isn't as Shanti she's born to a very powerful warrior who was in the inland area and what was then called the the Gold Coast present-day Ghana and her her father kind of has led her her village into all of these battles and they've won and things are looking up for for them until some some other rival ethnic group comes to kind of pay retribution and in this a bunch of her her people are captured and then marched down to the coast and she ends up being sold into slavery and so the novel never like whether they they intersect it at the exact same period but you get the sense that Afiya is living above her sister at one point and so then you follow down the line defendant after defendant into into the present day are you guys getting a feel for the book amazing and I mean that was just like the first maybe two chapter yeah and there are fifteen chapters I think all together and this book has everything that you can get elsewhere like all the drama that you're seeing I mean it addresses homosexuality let's see polygamy you know people cheating on their husbands and being a single parent just so much and for me as a woman there were a lot of things that I felt impacted women in particular and so I was just curious for you what emotions did this bring out you and writing this book particularly as it relates to the women in the book and what they experienced I always knew that I wanted women to be very central to the book I mean women are kind of central to my life there's I've heard a writer say you know people ask her you know why are there so many strong women and you're in your novels and she says well I don't know any weak women and that's kind of how I how I feel about the about that subject this book because I knew it was going to be multi-generational I knew that I wanted to start with women in particular because my people the akan jar are matrilineal and so it felt like an appropriate way of kind of setting up a family to start with this matriarch the the mother of these two sisters and then kind of move down in that way but it is equal in that they're half of the chapters are narrated by men and half of them are narrated by women but I do think that that I guess my my interest kind of my interest lay with the idea that that women were oftentimes the backbones to these families and kind of exploring with that what that meant as we moved down the line I feel like I'm bogarting I don't have a question you want to okay go away thanks koneko I think for me that that that was a very powerful visual to go through the first question you're talking about around these women in these rates through different parts of the castle I feel like if I ever visit the cape coast castle without giving away any spoilers I might be looking for something reflected but so much of the book felt amazingly real how did you how did you bring that to life I was Wikipedia and googling like as I was doing this like wait is that real it looks like of they're really there and these these were facts that you build stories around how did you manage to do that without being overwhelming through it well I was overwhelmed every day so I don't I don't know if I actually managed to do it without being overwhelmed I knew kind of going in that it was going to take a lot of research but the way that I approached it was – I made a family tree at the very beginning of the process and it looks a lot like the one at the front of the book now except mine also had the dates that each chapter would take place in and then something that was happening politically historically in the background during each time period so for Hojo's chapter it was the Fugitive Slave Act for aqueous chapter it was the asunto war and that kind of just helped me figure out a starting point for the research and then I would spend a little bit of time researching whatever that thing was and then the time period and just enough to make me feel as though I had kind of entered the world of the character and because I think sometimes when you read historical fiction you start to feel like the book is just like stiff with research and it stops feeling as though it's about the story and I wanted to always kind of privilege the story and so I say if I ever came to this crossroad where I had to decide between something that was true and something that was good for the story I would choose the thing that was good for the story and which not every writer would make that choice but but I did want it to be kind of a pleasure to read for lack of a better way of putting it so just I wrote it chronologically just kind of using that family tree as a guide and trying to remember to focus on character first and that comes through powerfully in the structure of the book while Kanika and I were preparing for this I cheat a little bit I had the audio book as well as but so what and I was listening to it I was like oh you got to check out chapter 14 or whatever and she's like dude there's no chapter yeah full-grain yeah that was a very ambitious structured structural choice mm-hmm have you seen that before it's there yeah so the structure came about probably about three years into the writing process when I first started the book in 2009 I had a much more traditional structure in mind I thought that I wanted to write something that would be set in the present and then just flashed back to the 18th century Ghana and so if you've read the book kind of the first two characters in the last two characters were the ones that I wanted to focus on but then the longer I worked on it the more that started to feel you know just kind of not significant enough that I wanted to be able to kind of watch this through-line be able to watch things like slavery and colonialism shift really gradually over this very long period of time and so I realized that that that aspect the aspect of time was the most important thing to me and in order to capture that I felt like I needed to be able to stop in as many generations as possible so that it was clear to me and to the reader you know how these things came from those things which came from those things which came from those things and so you kind of see this domino effect of history as you move and I didn't think I could do that if I just had a book that that was set in the present and flashed back and I've seen a lot of other multi-generational novels before a lot of a lot of which I I but I knew that the particular challenge of home going was that I was never going back in time so I was never returning to a character each each chapter moves forward in time and you never you'll hear bits and pieces about a character through their descendants but you never have a chapter that returns to the defendant and so that aspect of it was was probably the hardest thing to figure out how to do also do you want to get to why we're here yeah I don't know I don't know if I'm ready for it though it gets a little intense yeah one of the things that one of the things that this book spurred for me and as we got together I started planning this event and to bring you its ask you to join us here was the juxtaposition of what the impact has been so Fe NS see if they met at a village party whatever it would be yeah I would have had a particular set of interactions but as you go through you see the descendant saint and those interactions are not there so we're hoping that to get us started with like this section you'd read a little bit from the book okay um they're no spoilers here guys so don't worry and just the highlighted portion so okay water to hear cool the next day Marjorie sat by herself reading Lord of the Flies for English class she held the book in one hand and a fork in the other she was so engrossed in the book that she didn't realize that the chicken she had pierced with her fork hadn't made it into her mouth until she tasted air she finally looked up to see tisha and the other black girl staring at her why you reading that book tisha asked Marjorie stammered I have to read it for class I have to read it for class you should mimic you sound like a white girl white girl white girl they kept chanting and it was all Marjorie could do to keep from crying in Ghana whenever a white person appeared there was always a child there to point him out a small group of children dark and shiny and the equatorial Sun would extend their little fingers toward the person some skin was different from theirs and shout Oh Bruney Oh brownie they would giggle delighted by the difference when Marjorie had first seen children do this she'd watched as the white man whose skin color had been told to him grew shocked offended why did they keep saying that he'd asked the friend who was showing him around Marjorie's father pulled her aside that night and asked her if she knew the answer to the white man's question and she had shrugged her father had told her that the word had come to mean something entirely different from what it used to mean that the young of Ghana itself an infant country had been born to a place emptied of its colonizers because they didn't see white men every day the way people of his mother's generation and older had the word could take on new meaning for them they lived in a Ghana where they were the majority where theirs was the only skin color for miles around to them to call someone Oh brownie was an innocent act an interpretation of race as skin color you wrote a really powerful article for the New York Times and the headline was I'm gonna an American on my black as you go through that piece about the character how much of that was a personal experience you had growing up and how have you interpreted your identity as both fe NSC since you were born and gonna moved over to Alabama yeah I mean I think that little interaction where where marjorie gets made fun of for reading was something that had actually happened to me not exactly like that but but similar to that and it was really confusing and I think most of my kind of trying to figure out identity was specifically racial identity in America when I was young was was about being confused I think in part because my parents didn't really didn't really connect to it in the way that I did and I always say if you come from a country where everybody looks like you and you aren't kind of used to thinking of yourself as black it can be a challenge to come to America and have to start to kind of learn the racial rules and so if somebody said something offensive or used an epithet to me and I came home and told my parents about it they'd be like well they're not talking about you but of course they were and I think they didn't like really realize how how that worked they obviously had different kinds of divisions like my mother's Asante and my father Shanti and that was a division but the division of you know white and black was one that they didn't they didn't really understand and so in a lot of ways they felt like I kind of had to me and my brothers had to kind of say hear things out on our own which which was a challenge what percentage of marjorie would you say was you and that seemed to be the closest character yeah I think Marjorie and Marcus the last two characters were the most similar to me I mean they're obviously the closest and time-period to me so it's kind of easier to relate to them Marjorie I think shares the most kind of biographical information you know she's born in Ghana but she's raised in Alabama but I think where she starts to veer office that she has a much more intimate deeper relationship with Ghana than is you goes back every summer to visit her grandmother I only went back twice so her kind of her connection to her homeland is a lot stronger than than mine was so it's interesting that you talk about your experiences or even Margaret's experiences and growing up and not necessarily a particularly your parents not necessarily identifying with black Americans or African Americans yeah there was one particular passage in your book it was in the Marjorie chapter and it was her teacher Miss Pinkston and she said here in this country it doesn't matter where you came from first two white people running things you're here now and here black is black is black and that resonated with me because growing up in the States being born here and going up here you know I've never seen myself any different from any other black person whether you're from Africa or the Caribbean so it always baffles me when I am in spaces where people who I consider to be black separate themselves yeah and consider themselves to be different band so we match and I talked about this and had some very interesting conversation I think he had a different perspective obviously growing up outside of the states and coming in but do you want to share yeah yeah I think I think that's one of the things that we wanted to understand and unpack for everyone in the room is externally right as you come into work whether you know at Google or wherever you walk into the room you're black and all the assumptions are going to go with that blackness that that's what's expected right so as you know their fear line is whatever is Nigerian I come in if you know my accent gets stronger in the meeting it's a little bit of a surprise yeah for folks and one of the things that we've been trying to understand is that when you put these kanika and myself we put these different types of black in the same space the connection isn't as tight as we might expect and what do you think is the cause for that and how do we begin to unpack and bring that closer yeah and I think partially the causes I mean so in in homegoing you're looking at this this family that doesn't recognize that it's a family and can never recognize that it's family you know there have been these ruptures these divisions to where to the point where members particularly on the African American side of things can't even recognize which which country from the continent they've been ripped from and that to me is kind of devastating you know that this that these ruptures exist and so I think part part of it I speaking mostly just for the African side is just recognizing that that fact but there is this connection that exists even if you have to go back a long time to get to the source of that connection it does exist and to kind of stop thinking about yourselves as necessarily separate from black Americans because I think that's where a lot of a lot of the kind of troubles navigating race begin for for African immigrants is this idea that we are necessarily different set apart but in terms of how how to go about that I don't I don't know I don't know if I have a good answer for that you're a really difficult question that is that is the ongoing question and we're going to switch into lives question soon and live comment so I encourage folks to have an opinion about that that's the conversation we're trying to get started today and that's why the ancestry portion of the event has been introduced right so we get a chance to actually go back as far as we can to the beginning of our story right and start to connect these two communities just as a quick show of hands how many people in the room knew there was any sort of gulf between the black american community and the african community okay so we have we have like 20 25 percent or so so for the rest of y'all surprise these are conversations that we're having they were trying to bring to this using as platform for us to start discussing when it comes to the healing we know that's a very very hard thing like you said the answer to that question is something that the community needs to come together to talk about but there's a portion in your book I think we weren't sure we're going to have time for this the connect is going to be very excited that speaks about regret and how to deal with regret do you recall what I was thinking good happy new year Oh perfect we bothering a daughter but also not all right manifest and then the moment of the girl was crying irony father was saying you don't need to regret and I don't know the exact oh there we go here we go since we have a little bit of time sure so for us we've like studied this title is that's quite a long time ago they wrote this book the plants have all died and I could have helped them she said between sobs ibanez he said what would you have done differently if you knew the plants would die she thought about this for a moment wiped her nose with the back of her hand and answered I would have brought more water her father nodded the next time bring more water but don't cry for this time there should be no room in your life for regret if in the moment of viewing you felt clarity you felt certainty then why feel regret later that moved us as we thought about where these two communities are now and in a way we felt like in present day the markets are Margaery the kanika in the bash with the new crop so our choice sister how is how to deal with the regret of what's happened to us right and with that said folks will open it to life questions book and start lining up by the mics for folks or questions and I will also get the Dory ready hi thank you so much for coming so just for certification from Caribbean and I feel kind of like like on the sidelines like watching this happen right because it's one of those things where I grew up knowing impatient born here in America but then also like that kind of the vibe that you talk about but then also knowing that like even further back there's is like ancestry from western Africa most likely right right but what I also realized is growing up especially kind of just after this weekend and after the tragic shooting of Jordan in Dallas a young young boy who was killed over the weekend it's for me personally I I just wanted there's so much harm and not being kind of the fact that at any one point those stories don't don't appear right as as I skim hard as right and so those stories kind of get erased under the guise of this blackness and whatever stereotypes people might have view of you right law enforcement will have you what my question is is what do you think is the benefit of these communities coming together right what power do you think we might have in a collective by understanding the very real situation that there is in this country of walking in America as a black woman to the black man and so I just love to hear kind of your dreams for what that connection might be yeah I mean I think I think you know aside from healing which I shouldn't set that aside because that's a that's a really important factor right the ability to kind of heal but it's an opportunity to kind of protect one another as well what you were saying really resonated with me I was in that in that essay that I wrote for the New York Times I talked about the situation that my little brother had gotten into where he was riding his bike in our neighborhood when we lived in and we live in a predominantly white neighborhood in Alabama and our new neighbors called the police on him when the police came and kind of sent him home and you're thinking this situation could have gone so differently and he can't my little brother can't go home and just tell you know or can't tell these police officers that he's gonna and he's not black you know so that that kind of that kind of position doesn't work in the outside when you leave your house it doesn't work and so the the part of the reason why this this community does need to come together is I think for protection for healing for kind of being able to stick up for one another and kind of you know put a better face forward for for all of us this is going to be a bit of a loaded question but you alluded to earlier people reaching back into the past and seeing where they're from and all that experiences of getting to know oneself through that Avenue but the past itself is both very fragmented because there's this idea of romanticizing pre-colonial pastas if it was you know some ideal situation where everyone kind of got along when they was created like a lot of sting fighting in migration that's complicated more so by the fact that there was very few remnants at that time in place in the world after colonialism because most people's experiences their culture certainly what I know in southern Africa for example come from a lot of the 60s 70s and 80s so I think of African culture for example so to you what's what's the experience of culture and what is the utility of that culture in self-identification I think one of the one of the big challenges for writing home going and particularly for those earlier chapters was just how little like how little research I could get my hands on from the perspective of the people who had been going through these going through these things all of the accounts that I was reading there was a really helpful book called the door of no return by William st. Clair that took that took you through the cape coast castle and it had a chapter on the women it had chapter on the the children but what was noticeably absent was was any kind of any kind of chapter on slavery and what was happening in the bottom of this dungeon and so I think one thing that this that we are offered now is the opportunity to kind of develop these voices through fiction for me I can only speak I guess for for my own medium but it kind of gave me the opportunity to to lend a voice and kind of create this create a presence in a place that had once been absent and I think that even though it's fictional I think that does kind of help help to help to kind of reestablish a culture that has been lost in a culture that has been erased and given opportunity to kind of see one way to kind of restore restore something I think one of the one of the things that brings up for for me and for kanika and I as we went through this experience together you know like I was saying the book was a little bit of group therapy from the two different angles but African slave traders is something you don't hear a ton about um and connect if you don't mind me sharing she was saying that she read and she read that there was a lot of anger yeah and she asked me quite candidly ah like representing yeah because I do feel shame like what and one of the questions that I think that bubbles up for me is what level of responsibility do you feel and one of the characters speaks to the smell just here so it's level of responsibility do you feel like the African community should inherit and discuss and take for how these stories have played through I mean I guess first of all just the acknowledgement that this happened is is very important it's something that you know I'd heard about but people kind of mostly talk about it in whispers you know it wasn't something that I had heard people talk about really explicitly until I went to the cape coast castle and the tour guide wasn't trying to keep it a secret you know it wasn't like he was hiding this information if you take the tour they'll talk to you about about the different roles that the different ethnic groups had played in this and yet I feel like there's this kind of this tendency to really bristle if you mention it among among people that I've met and I think that reaction is the wrong one how can you take responsibility if you won't even acknowledge that it happened at all and so I think that's kind of the first thing that needs to happen also thank you first of all yeah I just want to thank you for even writing this book I think it sounds really exciting and I'm looking forward to reading it and thank you for being here today and for the organizers thank you for putting this together as a man of African descent who doesn't know what part of the continent I'm from I'm really excited to learn a little bit more about that and I have to pay at least $100 for that opportunity [Laughter] my question is do you have any ideas or inspiration for what your next project or your next book might be um yeah I'm kind of at the beginning of a new novel I'm really superstitious about talking so I won't get too into it but I think it'll be set in the present mostly because I don't want to do as much research and yeah I've heard other writers talk about how you only really have three things that you ever really write about in your career and you just kind of circle those things so I think a lot of the themes that I'm that I'm fascinated with and a lot of my obsessions will continue to appear in my work from now on when can we expect it no pressure and it's a really great thing Shirley's participating the arrival thank you can absolutely my mother and I read this book together and we absolutely loved it I was struck by your imagery of the Dominos of the black experience we asked an experience in America and you there were so many dominoes playing with unionization I mean there's just so much is there anything that you wanted to include but you just couldn't you couldn't pack it into the books or anything or any any additional characters or instances or moments in black history that you just couldn't fit in that you know didn't make it got cut out it didn't get cut out but the most noticeable absence and the thing that people often talk to me about is that I don't write about the Civil War at all so the Civil War kind of acts as the division between part parts 1 and part 2 of the novel and and that was mostly because I felt like it was a good kind of halfway mark and I felt like we we all kind of know about it and I also just didn't feel like I had a good Civil War story in me to contribute so that's that's probably the the biggest thing that that got left out of the book thank you uh I grew up in Ghana I lived there for 13 years I went to the castle when I was 12 mm-hmm didn't really have that much of an impact on me I grew about the refugee and kind of for that matter but there were claws on the walls that I think the room that you mentioned with the circle um I still have vivid memories of that and they said you know the slaves were fighting each other even feces and you know in the scratching the walls just for air in light so that really you know kind of struck me just now but at the same time I moved to the US when I was 15 and unlike most African stories that I've heard I was excited to meet a lot of black people here because I didn't have any clue I just saw the music videos not thought they were just cool as hell but my first day of school I wore a campaign you know like my can say my most prized outfit yeah and I wore sandals and I went to school and God planned on our darkest kid in school I didn't look like anybody I wasn't cool enough and so growing up unconsciously I fought the assimilation right I sound different from my family all my family sound African I sound like this some people recognized I'm an African later and so it's like what advice do you have for I guess the black community when there are people like myself looking to learn about them but yet we face this hostile you know negative and almost life-changing experience that is still affecting me today I think this for kanika and Joe and folks that want to speak to it I just got really uh so zero let our guest go far through that's a great question I mean I think part of part of the reason that that I wanted to write home going in the first place was because I had kind of always felt this this sense of not being at least for me not being gunday and enough for Ghanaians and not being black enough for black Americans and where did I stand if I couldn't be either of those things what did that make me and I think that was something that I grappled with a lot when I was younger and those questions about identity both racial identity and ethnic identity were the ones that were kind of propelling me to think about not the divisions but the connections and so this book was an opportunity for me to do that but I don't know but that was like just a personal kind of therapeutic thing that I did and I don't know what how to extend that out for other people I don't know do you have I think this is going to sound very prescriptive but I think it's about education and exposure and clearly the people who came across you when you came here they had very limited exposure and had certain preconceived notions in their heads as to what you were wearing what you looked like and what that represented and what that meant and so I think we everyone in this room and beyond this room we need to start taking opportunities where we can to educate those around us to educate those who come after us those who have come before us who have these preconceived notions in their heads and expose them and so you know part of it is what we're doing right now you know as I look around the room I see many different races and cultures and I for me it's about learning and I would presume that for many of you it's about learning and creating more understanding as well I think that goes both ways too because I have certainly heard things from West Africans in my life that are we're totally inappropriate and unacceptable that they had said about black Americans and I think it's kind of beginning to call out those things when you see it so that especially when it's happening to impressionable children that they don't start to internalize that and believe those things about themselves not just about themselves but about their classmates about their friends and so I mean that's one that's one thing you can do when you see it in your own life is just to call it out I think pretty much everyone has to read homegoing okay so the problem is that starts this conversation for a lot of folks and like yeah just said I think it goes both ways got too interested is experienced from sure there might be one or two people in this room that could share experience from the black American point of view and experiences they've had with Africans and one of the key reasons we're doing this is to celebrate Africa day Africa day little known day our holiday so secret when trying to start to mark and what it marks is the creation of the African Union so when you look at history you actually realize the emancipation of black people regardless of what continent they were on all kind of dominoed at the same time and as I did research for this I realize that MLK was actually in Africa at 57 meeting with one of the leaders of the African Union I can just imagine what that connection was like back then they saw each other as brethren fighting for a single goal right what happened in the last 50 years and I think that's a challenge for us in the room in this community to say this is Google what we do here spreads out into the world and if we can take this challenge on and take us back to whatever and lucky words think as I sat down in the room with the founders of the African Union it could be something truly truly special and truly powerful with that said we have about a minute so we'll take one last live question and then we'll gain structures on the next portion of the event thank you two quick comment and a question first comment thank you for the organizers who put this incredible event together to introduce me as an African as a native-born Ethiopian who didn't know about your book or your work so we'll be diving in um second comment I'm incredibly privileged to actually experience this day today with my dad who happens to be visiting and in town and I get a quick question for you with regard to the appropriateness of handing this book and being able to have my 10 in my 12 year old son and daughter be able to read it because you have many times told my story of coming to this country with a foreign background and an accent that drives people crazy because you can't place it anywhere and it takes the shape of its surrounding very quickly I just wanted to kind of get your your feedback on how would you pass this on to a young preteen who I really want to expose some of this work to and and and bring the awareness to hmm I think it I think it would be age-appropriate for for a middle school child maybe not younger than laughs but that middle school and up I think could could definitely read it and I think I mean I said this before I feel very much like this is the book that I wanted to read when when I was that age and did have all of these questions about identity and race and ethnicity and so and so I think yeah if I had had a book like this when I was when I was younger it might have helped make some things easier as I move through so so I hope that you that you do share it with your children and thank you for that for that comment awesome can we just celebrate yeah for a second [Applause] all right folks so part two for folks that are interested in the access pretest you're going to have to exit this way because we have another diversity event happening behind us that you should join once you're done but you're going to exit this way and right off of the slice cafe the wonderful volunteer is already there waiting for you to get started with that portion of the event for people interested in book people of booking it for people interested in the book the book vendor is going to be outside as well thank you again everyone for joining us [Applause] you

4 thoughts on “Yaa Gyasi: "Homegoing: A Novel" | Talks at Google

  1. Nice conversation. Truthfully speaking, us Africans here in America are just like any other group that is marginalized – we try to set ourselves apart from other groups on the periphery. Survival of the fittest comes to mind. We look like African-Americans, who have a tortured history in this country, so we separate ourselves and our aspirations. In addition, though, our motivations ARE often different. Most of us who have grown up in Africa have not had to contend with institutionalized racism to the same extent, so we don't have the same fire in the belly, which can cause conflict with African-Americans who sometimes feel we don't empathize with their struggle. Problem is – racists don't care about your origins. We are all just black to them.

  2. I know that this has nothing about the video but are you going to finish the app ivy? (the app that can calculate really big numbers) because it says that it's a work in progress.

  3. A white guy from France doesn't feel any special kinship with a white guy from the Ukraine. Why are Africans expected to feel kinship if one is from Kenya and the other is from Algeria? I imagine if I was an African I would find the endless lamentations of black Americans a real drain on my enthusiasm for them.

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