A 30-member committee of students and teachers selected Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel Homegoing as Blair’s 2018 all-school read, and the School community is delving into the award-winning work over the summer. “Each committee member who read the book was struck by its compelling story and beautiful prose,” said English department chair James Moore, who instituted the all-school read last year as part of his department’s effort to nurture Blair’s literary community. “We are excited to have Homegoing become part of the Blair conversation in 2018-2019.”
Mr. Moore explained that the selection-by-committee process was new this year. “I personally chose Weike Wang’s Chemistry as our all-school read for 2017-2018, but I wanted others—especially students—to have a say in this year’s book,” he said. He contacted publishers, university professors and independent bookstores for recommendations, but, ultimately, it was history teacher Hannah Higgin, PhD, who brought Homegoing to his attention. The book became one of three debut novels (including Elizabeth Cohen’s The Glitch and Christine Mangan’s Tangerine) that Mr. Moore chose for the committee to consider. After reading one or more of the works, committee members made the selection, which Mr. Moore, Lydia Richardson ’20, Avery Lehman ’21 and Gardner Coates ’20 revealed at School Meeting on May 11.
Homegoing tells the story of two half-sisters born in 18th-century Ghana, one of whom is sold into slavery while the other is forced to marry an English slaver. Ms. Gyasi traces their descendants through eight generations, alternating viewpoints throughout the novel, a literary technique that piqued Lydia’s interest. “Seeing the story through the eyes of a slave in Mississippi, the Ghanaian wife of a British colonizer and various members of their tribal family provides the reader with new and different perspectives on the history of slave trade and its effects on the people involved,” she said. “That’s what makes this book so fascinating.”
Director of Timken Library Ann Williams loves the way the two branches of the matriarchal line cross fortunes through the slave trade and across continents as their destinies unfold. “The characters are warmly drawn and the human drama is engaging and real,” she said. “The reader is taken on an epic journey in this thought-provoking tale.”
Having introduced Homegoing as a potential all-school read for 2018-2019, Dr. Higgin said, “It's such a joy to find a book that's as readable as it is poignant and relevant, and I'm so excited that the committee picked this book so I can share it with the wider community.”
Mr. Moore, Mrs. Williams, Dr. Higgin, history department chair Jason Beck and English department faculty members are planning a variety of programs surrounding the all-school read for the coming year, including a possible author visit, panel and classroom discussions, and presentations. New and returning sophomores, juniors and seniors have been assigned Homegoing as summer reading, while freshmen will study it as part of their English classes in the fall. “The book is fast-paced and beautifully written, but it touches on some difficult issues, including slavery and cruelty,” Mr. Moore noted. “We want to make sure we support our youngest students around those issues as necessary.”
Looking ahead, Mr. Moore envisions students becoming even more involved with the annual selection of the all-school read. “I’d like students to research possible works, to connect with the literary world and to make decisions about the literature we read on campus,” he said. “In the next couple of years, the selection committee will become primarily student-run with some faculty support. This year’s process was a good step in that direction.”