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The Folger Spotlight

'Homegoing' by Yaa Gyasi

Folger Book Club returns on Thursday, February 1 with a discussion of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. To get ready for the conversation, we’ve compiled some introductory information on this generational journey through history.

What is Homegoing about?

A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralded the arrival of Yaa Gyasi as a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

Generation after generation, Yaa Gyasi’s magisterial first novel sets the fate of the individual against the obliterating movements of time, delivering unforgettable characters whose lives were shaped by historical forces beyond their control.

Critical Reception

“Gyasi’s amazing debut offers an unforgettable, page-turning look at the histories of Ghana and America . . .” – Publishers Weekly

“. . . a hugely empathic, unflinching portrayal of west Africa’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.’” – The Guardian

“In Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi has given rare and heroic voice to the missing and suppressed.” – NPR

“. . . [a] rich debut novel . . .truly captivating– The Washington Post

“A novel of sharply drawn character studies . . .awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.” – Kirkus Reviews

Why did we choose this book?

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection explores not only Shakespeare’s life and works, but also the plays’ historical context, source material, critical and performance histories, and the ways in which they inspire and are adapted by contemporary novelists.

The Folger collections spans centuries, as does Gyasi’s moving generational novel. By considering our collection alongside the ongoing legacies of colonialism and enslavement through time, we gain a fuller understanding of the historical context of these items.

About the author: Yaa Gyasi

Adapted from Penguin Random House

Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. Her debut novel Homegoing, published in 2016, won the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award for best first book, the PEN/Hemingway Award for a first book of fiction, the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35” honors for 2016 and the American Book Award. She was awarded a Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Literature in 2020. Her second book, Transcendent Kingdom, was published in 2021. 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.

Content Transparency

Homegoing includes references to potentially sensitive subjects. Expand below for a list of content.

February’s Bookstore Partner

For our February session, we are excited to partner with Loyalty Bookstores, a Black, Queer, and Asian owned independent bookstore in the Petworth neighborhood of DC and in downtown Silver Spring, MD that specializes in diverse books.

Please be aware that Loyalty Bookstores are taking safety precautions related to COVID-19. Both stores are open for both shopping and in-store pickup. Masking is optional in store and we offer masks for customers if they would like one. Staff will continue to mask and test regularly for the foreseeable future. Place your order online through their website or pick up the book in either location. Click here for further information on current policies and operations.

To learn more, visit loyaltybookstores.com or find them on Instagram or Twitter @loyaltybooks.

Purchase your copy of Homegoing from Loyalty Bookstores

We would like to thank the following organizations for their generous support of this program

Capitol Hill Community Foundation
Junior League of Washington

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