The College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) is bringing New York Times best-selling novelist Yaa Gyasi to USF to talk about her book “Homegoing” and the African American and immigrant experience.
Gyasi’s lecture is part of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the USF Institute on Black Life, an anniversary College of Arts and Sciences Dean Eric Eisenberg said is an important one.
“The institute has been an important marker of USF’s commitment to the black experience on campus and to black students and so I thought it would be really, really great if we could have a speaker who specifically spoke about both the African diaspora and the African American experience, which is really what her book is about,” Eisenberg said.
Eisenberg said he first came cross Gyasi’s book in a magazine he was reading about first time novelists. The review for Gyasi’s book, “Homegoing,” was glowing.
“I’m always looking for new and exciting speakers that are sort of on the national scene,” Eisenberg said.
In the book, Gyasi writes about various descendants of two sisters from eighteenth-century Ghana and the lives of these descendants in both Ghana and the U.S.
“It’s like a bunch of vignettes about the different paths that these people took out of Ghana,” Eisenberg said.
He said he likes to get people to give lectures before they become big nationally. Since Gyasi was selected for CAS’s lecture series, Frontier Forum, she has gone on to win awards for her work and has appeared on television shows such as “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central.
“Part of the reason (Gyasi was chosen) was I was excited by the reception the book was getting and I thought it would be really fun to have somebody sort of on the verge of becoming really well known nationally,” Eisenberg said.
Gyasi will talk about her novel and her experience writing it, as well as the connections between her book and current events, Eisenberg said. He said he considers Gyasi’s lecture is relevant in lots of different ways considering recent events, such as President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration.
“I didn’t realize when we invited her that immigration was going to be the topic of the day when she was coming,” Eisenberg said. “… Now it’s incredibly relevant because she will really shed light on the immigrant experience from Africa to the United States, and also, I’m sure in her remarks she’ll make some comment about how that’s relevant for what’s been going on today.”
Eisenberg said he hopes the lecture will provide students with a historical context and help them understand the African diaspora, the immigrant experience and what it means to be an American.
“I also think that it’s one thing to give facts about immigration and diaspora but it’s another thing to hear a story and I think that’s what’s really touching people, is that the story she tells in ‘Homegoing’ is the story that could happen to any person and so I think it gives a real face to what it is to be an immigrant, what it is to be an American, what it is to be a minority in a new country and those kinds of things,” he said.
Gyasi’s lecture will cost $8,000, which includes her travel, according to Christina Goldstein, conference and events planner for the CAS.
The lecture is free and open to the public. It will be held at the Oval Theater in the Marshall Student Center (MSC) on Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m. There will be a VIP reception and celebration of the USF Institute on Black Life’s anniversary from 6 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. also in the MSC in room 2708. After the lecture, there will be a book signing.
“She’s not that far out of college so she’s going to be a really interesting exemplar or role model for our students,” Eisenberg said. “I hope students come, especially students who are interested in history and also in writing to see how it’s possible. It’s possible to tell your story and be successful and put it out there and change the dialogue about these kinds of things in the world.”
Eisenberg said the next lecturer for the CAS Frontier Forum will be Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker and CNN, who has written a number of books, one in particular about The Supreme Court. The lecture will take place on April 27. The CAS will also use Toobin’s lecture to formally announce the formation of the new School of Interdisciplinary Global Studies, Eisenberg said.