Yaa Gyasi (born 1989) is a Ghanaian-American novelist whose debut novel, Homegoing, brought her, at age 26, the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award for best first book, the PEN/Hemingway Award for a first book of fiction, and the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35” honors for 2016.
Born in Mampong, Ghana,she is the daughter of Kwaku Gyasi, a professor of French at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and her mother Sophia, who is a nurse.Her family moved to the United States in 1991 when her father was completing his Ph. D. at Ohio State University.The family also lived in Illinois and Tennessee, and from the age of 10, Gyasi was reared in Huntsville, Alabama.
Gyasi recalls being shy as a child, feeling close to her brothers for their shared experiences as young immigrant children in Alabama, and turning to books as her “closest friends”.She received a certificate of achievement signed by LeVar Burton after submitting the first story she wrote to the Reading Rainbow Young Writers and Illustrators Contest, which encouraged her, and after reading Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon at the age of 17, she was inspired to choose a career in writing.
She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English at Stanford, and a Master of Fine Arts from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a creative writing program at the University of Iowa.
Shortly after graduating from Stanford, she began her debut novel and worked at a startup company in San Francisco, but she did not enjoy the work and resigned after she was accepted to Iowa in 2012.
Her debut novel Homegoing was inspired by a 2009 trip to Ghana, Gyasi’s first trip to Ghana since leaving the country as an infant. The novel was completed in 2015, and after initial readings from publishers, was met with numerous offers before she accepted a seven-figure advance from Knopf.