Born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, award-winning novelist Yaa Gyasi took the literary world by storm with her 2016 debut, Homegoing. A kaleidoscopic story that traces the descendants of two half-sisters torn apart in eighteenth-century Africa, its sweeping 300-year scope explores the forces that shape families over space and time. Sold to Knopf for a $1-million advance, the novel won the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award, the PEN/Hemingway Award for a first book of fiction, and the American Book Award for contributions to diversity in American literature.

In 2020, Gyasi released her stunning follow-up, Transcendent Kingdom. A probing rumination on the psychic costs of immigration, it chronicles a Ghanaian family’s struggles to assimilate and integrate themselves into Alabama’s fraught racial climate. The book was an instant New York Times bestseller, drawing widespread critical acclaim and cementing Gyasi’s status as a vital new voice in contemporary fiction.

Sharing some of the most influential reads of her life in an interview with Elle, Gyasi recommended powerful examinations of family, feminism, and racial and cultural identity. From Lucille Clifton’s landmark poetry collection to Chinua Achebe’s classic of African literature, explore her reading list below. Then, complement with the bookshelves of Chimamanda Adichie, Jesmyn Ward, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Zadie Smith.

Yaa Gyasi’s Reading List

Good Woman by Lucille Clifton

“I memorized poems from Lucille Clifton’s Good Woman one summer when I was having a particularly hard time. That book feels like the old friend who always knows exactly what to say.” -YG

You Are Not a Stranger Here: Stories by Adam Haslett

“I was in the middle of ‘The Beginnings of Grief’ while riding the bus to work. It’s the most beautiful, saddest story, in the most beautiful, saddest book. I spent the rest of my bus ride crying and was incredibly late.” -YG

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

“I finished it on New Year’s Eve of 2019, so in hindsight, to have wept my way into 2020, given all that year would bring, feels incredibly prescient. It’s an utterly gorgeous novel, both hilarious and devastating all at once. ” -YG

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (also rec’d by Chrissie Hynde, Hilary Mantel & Margaret Atwood)

“A classic for a reason.” -YG

How We Get Free edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (also rec’d by Ibram X. Kendi)

“It’s a book that shares the mission statement of the Combahee River Collective along with interviews of the founding members and contemporary activists. A great reminder of the work that has been done and the work that is ongoing.” -YG

Oreo by Fran Ross

“It’s so playful and strange. One of those books you read and think, Why don’t we write books like this anymore?” -YG

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

“I’m late to the party, but I recently finished The Fifth Season, the first book of The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin and loved it. It would make a fantastic television series.” -YG

Let the Record Show by Sarah Schulman

“A political history of ACT UP, written by someone whose work is endlessly interesting and engaging? Yes, please.” -YG

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

Head Off & Split by Nikky Finney

Alive Together by Lisel Meuller

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (also rec’d by Jodie Foster, Jonathan Franzen, Kamala Harris & Marlon James)

“‘…if you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.’ The most moving ending in all of literature.” -YG

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (also rec’d by Jane Goodall, Rose McGowan & Ursula K. Le Guin)

The Octopus Museum by Brenda Shaughnessy

“I bought the book just based on the beauty of that jacket alone, though, luckily for me, the poems are just as gorgeous.” -YG

Proxies by Brian Blanchfield

“I picked up Proxies by Brian Blanchfield after seeing it on a display table at McNally Jackson. I love that store, and Proxies ended up being one of my favorite reads last year.” -YG

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat

“I’ve been making the Buttermilk Biscuits from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat for years now. I always have a batch in my freezer. They are basically a butter-filled vehicle for butter. I could eat them every day.” -YG

(via Elle)

Categories: Writers