Award-winning author Taiye Selasi ’01 delivered a reading of her New York Times bestselling novel “Ghana Must Go” to a crowd of more than 20 Yale students Tuesday in Linsly-Chittenden Hall.
Selasi, whose short story “The Sex Lives of African Girls” was selected for the 2012 iteration of the “Best American Short Stories” anthology, discussed the trajectory that led her to her current work and the significance of sub-Saharan culture in her writing. At Tuesday’s reading, she read two passages from “Ghana Must Go,” which she published in 2013.
“For me, creative writing stems from my interest in human beings and the human I see in us all,” Selasi said. “My thing was always writing.”
Selasi said she has known she wanted to be a writer since the age of four, and her works focus on themes of home, relationships among people, identity and race.
While Selasi said her writing primarily explores individuals’ internal landscapes, Matthew Jacobson — Yale’s William Robertson Coe Professor of American Studies and History who taught Selasi — added that her writing also has a geopolitical quality. Jacobson noted that Selasi describes herself as a “citizen of worlds.”
“The kind of work she’s doing and questions she’s been asking for so many years, such as the complexity of national identity, are incredibly valuable,” Jacobson said. “She is a very important voice at this particular moment.”
Selasi holds a master’s degree from Oxford in international relations, which she said might account for the geopolitical character Jacobson identifies in her stories and novels. She said she chose to pursue a graduate degree in international relations out of fear that she would have a difficult time finding employment had she solely pursued creative writing.
Additionally, Selasi said, global events encouraged her to look beyond her immediate environment at Yale.
“I woke up in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, and I saw what had been happening beyond the beautiful walls [of Yale] and understood identity in an international context,” she said.
Prior to graduating from Yale and Oxford, Selasi said she found herself asking the same question over and over again: “Why does the culture tell itself this story in this way?”
Her fiction writing, she said, aims to address this question. Through “Ghana Must Go” and her short stories, Selasi said she tries to deconstruct stereotypes and internalized culture. She noted that her projects of deconstruction — through which she aims to break down questions of culture, identity and home — help her better understand her own definitions of these concepts.
Selasi highlighted the “quiet courage” needed to be a writer, adding that she did not always possess the amount of courage she does today, especially as an undergraduate student.
Addressing the creative writers in the audience, Selasi said that when people ask her why she writes, she thinks of Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet,” in which Bohemian-Austrian poet Rilke describes writing as a necessity.
“Ghana Must Go” is a novel divided into three parts: “Gone,” “Going” and “Go,” Selasi said. Together, the parts explore the idea of home, what it means to belong somewhere and how this perception transforms throughout life — a phenomenon Selasi related to her own life.
“[Before], I always felt homeless, and like I needed permission to be home, but now, I know that home is a place I can create,” Selasi said.
Astouline Nutakor ’20 said Selasi’s reading, specifically the ideas she put forth about home and identity, resonated with her personally. Being of both Ghanian and French descent, Nutakor said she often feels displaced and as though she is neither truly Ghanian nor French.
Selasi said she is currently in the process of writing her second novel.